Orbex, a Scottish space exploration company, hired AMCM to build the largest industrial 3D printer in Europe. With this new printer, the aerospace company can quickly print complex rocket engines in-house. With the bespoke large volume 3D printer, Orbex can print more than 35 large rocket engines and main stage turbo pump systems annually as the company expands its production capabilities for launches.
The multi-million pound contract was signed with AMCM after a number of successful attempts at large-scale printing of missile parts. 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.
Orbex is one of the most interesting startups using AM for space applications. The company worked with SLM Solutions systems. The AMCM machines, which are modified versions of EOS’s largest M400 systems, can now print even larger parts (while SLM fully introduces the new NXG platform). The purchase of Orbex is made possible because it recently secured $ 24 million in a financing round led by BGF, the UK’s most active investment company, and Octopus Ventures, one of Europe’s largest venture capitalists. The additional funding brings significant new investments in high technology employment opportunities and large manufacturing facilities to the Scottish Highlands.
The new 3D printing system prints rocket parts using a special mix of metals, including titanium and aluminum, to create a lightweight system that can withstand the temperatures and pressures of space travel. Orbex prints components like rocket engines in one piece, eliminating the weaknesses that can be caused by joining and welding.
The 3D-printed rocket 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, Orbex granted planning permission for the Space Hub Sutherland home port 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 the first orbital launch is expected in 2022.
A 3D rendering of the Orbex launch site.
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 through the integration of 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 as we ramp up production,” said Chris Larmour, CEO of Orbex. “This means that we can continue to iterate and increase performance. In the longer term, as we prepare for multiple product 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. “
“Investing in a large 3D printing system like this says a lot about Orbex’s ambitions in the European space sector,” said Martin Bullemer, AMCM’s Managing Director. “To be a leader in the European market, they need the product reliability and speed that such a large-scale 3D printing system can offer them. And while this is an important purchase, it will allow Orbex significant cost control in the years to come. “