UK start-up Orbex has just built the world’s largest 3D printed rocket engine. The engine is unique in that it is the first one printed entirely as a single piece without any joins. This makes it lighter and more efficient than other small phase II launchers. The new rocket is not just special in terms of its scale but also due to its ability to use renewable fuel for maximum efficiency. Orbex held a launch event near Inverness in Scotland on Thursday, unveiling the Prime rocket.
The main purpose of the vessel is to deliver small satellites into Earth’s orbit. Orbex developed the rocket with aid from various veterans from various aerospace organisations, including NASA. The rocket, along with the engine, will vertically measure at 56 feet (17 meters) tall. It consists of a carbon fibre and an aluminium composite comprising its main body. This puts it at a quarter of the size of SpaceX’s Falcon 9, which is impressive for heavily 3D printed aerospace technology.
Currently, they house the rocket at a 2,000 square metre HQ in Forres, in the north east of Scotland. The headquarters building will combine a rocket design and integration facility, an operations centre and executive offices. Their operations are even more impressive considering how they currently operate with only three full-time employees on site. With their recent acclaim, Orbex are hoping to bring more than 130 jobs to the region by the end of the year.
The Rocket Race
The news comes hot on the heels of Relativity Space signing a contract with the U.S. Air Force to launch their 3D printed rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida. Relativity Space was the previous record-holder for largest 3D printed aerospace rockets. They have also managed to make the production of the technology far more cost and fuel-efficient.
This new rocket is a massive step forward not just for size but also for structural innovations. No welds or joins also means that the rocket could withstand extreme temperature and pressure fluctuations better. The rocket is also innovative in its use of bio-propane. This shows the potential of aerospace in clean-burning, renewable fuel sources that cuts carbon emissions by 90 percent.
Right now, the company is partnering with Swiss satellite tech startup Astrocast. Together, they will launch an impressive 64 nanosatellites to build a global Internet of Things network. The prime will be more than capable of handling the task as it can potentially take satellites to altitudes of up to 776 miles (1,250 km).
Featured image courtesy of Orbex.