VALETTA, Malta – After raising $ 24 million in December, Orbex announced on February 24 that AMCM had been awarded a contract to build a high-volume 3D printer to manufacture its rocket engines.
The Scottish microlauncher startup is currently developing Prime, a two-stage launcher powered by six first and second stage biopropane engines. The vehicle’s maiden flight is scheduled for 2022 from a scheduled launch facility in Sutherland, Scotland.
Orbex said the 3D printer will be the largest in Europe and allow the company to produce more than 35 rocket engines per year. First, however, the printer is used to perfect the first and second stage engine designs.
“While 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 as we ramp up production,” said Chris Larmour, CEO of Orbex. “This means that we can iterate further and improve performance even further.”
The 3D printer developed for Orbex is based on the four-laser metal printing platform AMCM M 4K-4, which the German technology company produced in series last June. A similar AMCM 3D printer was used by the US microlaunch startup Launcher to make test prototypes of its E-2 rocket engine.
In addition to the 3D printer itself, the multi-million dollar deal includes post-processing machines and an automated imaging inspection system to validate print quality.
To accommodate the 3D printer and associated equipment, Orbex will add 1,000 square feet to the factory space of its development facility in Forres, Scotland.
The Orbex Forres facility opened in 2019. The 2,000 square meter facility includes a missile design and integration facility, operations center, and executive offices. Work on expanding the facility has already started.
Orbex has won customers for six Prime launches so far. The vehicle’s first launch is expected to be an experimental payload for the smallsat maker Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. carry. Larmour said the company is expected to add more customers over the next few months.