SLM technology breaks records: the largest rocket engine printed

    Orbex Prime Rocket. Photo: Orbex SLM Solutions, a manufacturer of

    metal additive systems, has manufactured an engine for the British aerospace company Orbex, which is called the world's largest 3D printing rocket engine. ” The engine for the Prime commercial orbital launch vehicle was printed on a 3D printer as an all-metal product and will be used to deliver small satellites into orbit. The Prime rocket was recently officially unveiled during the opening ceremony of the new Orbex headquarters in Forres, Scotland, sponsored by the Horizon 2020 European Commission, the UK Space Agency (UKSA) and other private and public organizations.

    At the ceremony, Graham Turnock, UKSA Executive Director, said: “The new Orbex project complex is another UK step toward independent commercial missile launches. This is the strengthening of its leadership position in Europe in the eyes of those who are turning their eyes to the orbit of the Earth and beyond in search of new opportunities. "

    UK Space Agency Executive Director Graham Turnock speaks at the official launch of the Prime rocket. Photo: Orbex

    From an unknown startup to $ 40 million investment

    Orbex was founded in 2015 with the goal of launching into the Earth’s orbit commercial vehicles of the “Cubsat” format - small satellites weighing several kilograms. The company worked “in stealth mode” until July 2018, when it announced the attraction of private and state funding in the amount of £ 30 million ($ 40 million). At the same time, information was officially confirmed that the UKSA would provide Orbex with the opportunity to launch from the Sutherland Cosmodrome, using it in conjunction with an American competitor, Rocket Lab.

    Thanks to 3D printing, Prime has become 30% lighter and 20% more efficient than any other launch vehicle in this category.

    Orbex's lightweight Prime launch vehicle is fueled by liquid oxygen and propane, a gas that is a non-toxic and cheaper alternative to hydrogen. Like many other modern missiles, the Prime booster is designed for reuse, which reduces the amount of waste generated during the launch process.

    The Prime missile, 19 m high and 1.3 m in diameter, is capable of delivering a payload of 150 kg to a height of up to 500 km. In this regard, it is comparable to the Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket, which has a payload of 150 to 225 kg, but note that these two missiles use different fuels.

    3D printing of a prime rocket engine

    The Prime rocket engine was printed by SLM Solutions on a large-format 3D printer SLM 800. The SLM 800 build chamber is 260x500 mm in size and allows you to print parts up to 800 mm high - which is what the Orbex engine needs.

    A close-up of a Prime rocket engine printed as a unit. Photo: Orbex

    The engine was made of nickel alloy, and the additive manufacturing methodAllowed Orbex to spend 90% less time and reduce costs by more than 50% compared to traditional machining on CNC machines. In addition, according to experts, this method of manufacturing the engine made it possible to make the Prime rocket "30% lighter and 20% more efficient than any other launch vehicle of this category." At the concept development stage, Orbex strategic investor Elecnor Deimos Space demonstrated that the Prime rocket was only 18 tons in mass.

    One of the key factors in the engine manufacturing process is 3D metal the form of a whole product, which significantly increases its overall reliability due to the absence of any joints and seams. Talking about the process of creating an engine, Lukas Pankevich, SLM Solutions 3D printing specialist, notes: “We tried to meet the expectations of the Orbex team regarding quality and make the engine suitable for additive production without compromising on its functionality. When preparing the data, each supporting structure was individually set up to ensure the best quality in each section of the engine, taking into account, among other things, the post-processing process. ”

    We look forward to launching in 2021!

    In the private space launch industry, more and more competitors are appearing in a hurry to take the lead in the commercial market. In an effort to reduce costs and develop new, lightweight designs , many manufacturers in this area have resorted to the use of 3D printers for the production of engines. So, 3D printing was used to create the Space X Superdraco engine, AR1 engine (Aerojet Rocketdyne), Rutherford engine (Rocket Lab) and individual parts of Blue Origin BE engines.

    The first launch of the Orbex Prime rocket with a 3D-printed engine is planned for 2021 - this will be the conclusion of the experimental payload for Surrey Satellite Technology, a leader in the field of 3D printing.

    Speaking at the launch ceremony for Prime Prime, Chris Larmore, Orbex CEO, said: “Orbex has taken a few big steps today by creating something unique to Europe - a well-funded private microsatellite launch project with excellent manufacturing capabilities and close collaboration with industrial enterprises and the rapid growth in the number of commercial customers. ”

    Translation from English. The original of this material is on

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