Scottish house agency commissions Europe’s largest 3D printer to construct rockets

Forres-based Orbex has put Europe’s largest industrial 3D printer into operation, allowing the aerospace company to quickly print complex rocket engines in-house.

This move will ramp up production to more than 35 large main stage rocket engines and turbo pump systems per year as the company expands its production capabilities for launches.

The multi-million pound contract was signed after a number of successful attempts with AMCM (Additive Manufacturing Customized Machines).

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.

The 3D printing system prints rocket parts using a mix of metals such as 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 components will be key parts of the Orbex launcher, a 19-meter-long rocket designed to propel small satellites into polar orbits around the earth.

Last August, planning permission was granted for Orbex’s home port, Space Hub Sutherland, on the A’Mhoine peninsula in Sutherland.

The site is currently the only UK spaceport that has received planning permission. The start of construction is expected for the end of this year and the first orbital launch in 2022.

Orbex’s Prime is unique to a commercial rocket and runs on bio-propane – a clean-burning, renewable fuel that reduces CO2 emissions by 90% compared to kerosene-based fuels. It was also 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.

“Although our rocket engines and other critical systems are pretty mature after years of testing, a large in-house 3D printing system like this one gives us far greater speed and flexibility when we ramp up production,” said CEO Chris Larmour.

“In the long term, as we prepare for several launches per year, we will have better control over our costs and our supply chain.”

AMCM Managing Director Martin Bullemer commented: “The investment in such a large-scale 3D printing system says a lot about Orbex’s ambitions in the European space sector.

“If you want to be a leader in the European market, you need the production reliability and speed that such a large-scale 3D printing system gives you – and while this is a major purchase, Orbex in the US will have significant cost control for years to come. “

Orbex recently announced that it has secured $ 24 million in a financing round led by investment firm BGF and venture capital firm Octopus Ventures. This is in addition to previous investments by Heartcore Capital, Gründerfonds and Elecnor.

The additional funding has created employment opportunities for technology and large manufacturing facilities in the Scottish highlands.

Orbex has its headquarters, production and testing facilities in Scotland, with other design and testing facilities in Denmark.

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