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Orbex orders giant 3D printer for rocket engines

Orbex 3D printed rocket engine

3D printed rocket engine

A rocket firm has commissioned the largest industrial 3D printer in Europe to make engines at its plant in the Highlands.

Aerospace company Orbex announced last July that it planned to install a 3D printer at its spaceport in Forres.

After months of trials it has chosen AMCM to undertake the installation and will expand its factory by 1,000 sq metres.

The system will print rocket parts using a custom blend of metals including titanium and aluminium to withstand the temperature and pressure extremes of spaceflight.

Orbex will print components such as rocket engines as a single piece, eliminating the weaknesses which can arise from joining and welding.

The company’s launch vehicle, a 19-metre long “microlauncher” rocket, is designed to deliver small satellites into polar orbits.

The Prime rocket

Planning permission was granted for Orbex’s home spaceport, Space Hub Sutherland, at the A’Mhoine peninsula in Sutherland in August last year. It is the only UK spaceport to receive planning permission, with construction expected to begin soon and the first orbital launch expected next year.

Uniquely for a commercial rocket, its Prime rocket is fuelled by bio-propane, a clean-burning, renewable fuel which reduces CO2 emissions by 90% compared to kerosene-based fuels.  The rocket was designed to be re-usable, incorporating a novel recovery and reusability system.  The rocket has also been designed to leave zero debris in orbit around the Earth.

Chris Larmour, CEO of Orbex, said: “Although our rocket engines and other critical systems are already quite mature after years of testing, a large-scale in-house 3D printing system like this gives us far greater speed and agility as we ramp up production.”

Orbex has secured $24 million in a funding round led by BGF and Octopus Ventures, one of the largest VCs in Europe.

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