Above: Orbex Prime 3D-printed rocket engine / Photo credit: Orbex
Orbex, the UK-based space company in order AMCM, Manufacturer of customized, high-performance industrial 3D printing solutions, builds the largest industrial 3D printer in Europe and enables the company to quickly 3D print complex rocket engines in-house. Orbex speculates that its 3D printing system will deliver more than 35 large format 3D printed rocket engines and main stage turbo pump systems annually as the company expands its production capabilities for launches.
The multi-million pound deal was signed with AMCM after a number of successful attempts to print various large rocket components over several months. AMCM will deliver a complete printing suite with post-processing machines and image processing systems that enable automatic image-based inspection of printed components. In order to do justice to the new machines, Orbex is expanding its factory area by a further 1,000 m².
3D printed rocket engines
Above: The 3D printed rocket engine was manufactured as a one-off / Photo credit: Orbex
The industrial 3D printer will create 3D printed rocket engine parts from a special mix of metals like titanium and aluminum to create a lightweight system that can withstand the extreme temperature and pressure conditions of space travel. Orbex prints components such as rocket engines in one piece, eliminating the weaknesses that can arise from joining and welding.
The 3D-printed rocket engine components will be key parts of the Orbex launcher, a 19-meter-long “micro launcher” rocket designed to propel small satellites into polar orbits around the earth. In August 2020, planning permission was granted for Orbex’s home port Space Hub Sutherland on the A’Mhoine peninsula in Sutherland. The A’Mhoine site is currently the only UK spaceport to have received a building permit. Construction is expected to start in 2021 and 2021. First orbital launch is expected in 2022.
Unique to a commercial rocket, Prime runs on bio-propane, a clean-burning, renewable fuel that reduces CO2 emissions by 90% compared to kerosene-based fuels. The Prime missile was designed to be reusable and incorporate a novel recovery and reusability system. The rocket was also designed not to leave debris in orbit around the earth.
Chris Larmour, CEO of Orbex, explains: “Although our rocket engines and other critical systems are pretty mature after years of testing, an extensive in-house 3D printing system like this gives us far greater speed and agility in production when started up. This means that we can iterate and increase performance further. In the longer term, as we prepare for multiple launches per year, we will have better control over our costs and our supply chain. After extensive trials, the results of AMCM were very successful and we are confident that we have made the right choice of partner. “
Martin Bullemer, MD of AMCM said, “Investing in a large 3D printing system like this says a lot about Orbex’s ambitions in the European space sector. To be a leader in the European market, they need the production reliability and speed that such a large-scale 3D printing system can offer. And while this is an important purchase, it will allow Orbex significant cost control in the years to come. “
Orbex recently announced that it has received $ 24 million in a funding round led by BGF, the UK’s most active investment company, and Octopus Ventures, one of the largest VCs in Europe. The additional funding will bring significant new investment in high technology employment opportunities and large manufacturing facilities in the Scottish Highlands region.
About Orbex: Orbex is a UK based aerospace company with headquarters, manufacturing and testing facilities in Scotland and design and testing facilities in Denmark. Orbex employees have professional backgrounds with NASA, ESA, Ariane and several commercial space organizations.
About AMCM: AMCM (Additive Manufacturing Customized Machines) develops and produces customer-specific, high-performance industrial 3D printing solutions. Based on EOS technology, AMCM offers tailor-made AM solutions, modified and improved EOS systems that are tailored to customer requirements – from new lasers to adapted heating concepts to modified construction volumes.
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