Orbex, the Scottish aerospace company, announced that it has launched the largest industrial 3D printer in Europe for fast rocket building as the company prepares to launch rockets from Scotland in 2022. Weighing in at over 12 tons, the system will allow you to print 35 rocket engines every year.
Orbex selected Additive Manufacturing Customized Machines (AMCM) to build Europe’s largest industrial 3D printer, which the UK-based innovative space company can use to quickly print complex rocket engines in-house. With the bespoke high 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 over several months to print various large rocket components. 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 special mix of metals, including 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.
Image credit: AMCM
Image credit: Orbex
Image credit: Orbex
The 3D-printed rocket components will be key parts of Orbex’s Prime 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. The start of construction is expected in 2021. First orbital launch expected in 2022.
Unique to a commercial rocket, Prime runs on bio-propane, a clean-burning, renewable fuel that reduces CO2 emissions by 90 percent 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.
“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 and increase performance further. In the long term, as we prepare for multiple product launches per year, we will have better control over our costs and our supply chain. After extensive testing, the results are shown. We have seen that AMCM has been very successful and we are confident that we have made the right choice of partner. “
Martin Bullemer, Managing Director of AMCM added, “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. While this is an important purchase, it will provide Orbex with significant cost control over the years to come. “
Orbex recently announced that it has secured US $ 24 million (approximately £ 17 million) in a financing 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.
The UK’s space ambitions are increasingly at the center of government funding and discussion. In December 2020, £ 7mn was funded to 21 organizations hoping to innovate in the space sector, from projects to monitor climate change to projects to better connect with remote areas.
However, earlier this month, during a parliamentary debate on the future of the space industry, some MEPs warned that Britain was lagging behind France and Germany in the European space race.
“The UK’s economic output to space is estimated at £ 300 billion today and will rise to £ 340 billion by 2030. What is worrying, however, is that only 10 percent of this activity is actually UK-owned,” said Chris Skidmore, former scientist Minister.
In addition to Britain, more and more nations are pursuing the potential benefits of space exploration. In addition to the US, China, India and the EU, where the European Space Agency recently announced a recruiting campaign for new European astronauts, Turkey recently unveiled its own space program to be rolled out over the next decade. This includes the development of satellite systems and the sending of Turkish astronauts on space missions.
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