Space firm Orbex has commissioned the construction of the largest industrial 3D printer in Europe to rapidly print rocket engines in-house.
AMCM has been commissioned by the rocket firm to build the custom-made 3D printer, which Orbex said will enable it to print more than 35 large-scale rocket engines and main-stage turbopump systems annually.
The innovative 3D printing system will print rocket parts using a combination of metals, including titanium and aluminium, to create a lightweight system designed to withstand the 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 3D-printed components will be critical parts of Orbex’s launch vehicle, a 19-metre long “microlauncher” rocket designed to deliver small satellites into polar orbits around the Earth.
Orbex CEO Chris Larmour said the 3D printing system will greatly enhance the company’s production volumes and improve performance.
“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,” he said.
“It means we can continue to iterate and drive-up performance even further. Longer term, as we get ready for multiple launches per year, it will give us greater control over our costs and supply chain.”
The multi-million-pound deal was signed today following a series of successful trials printing various rocket components in recent months. As part of the deal, AMCM will deliver a “complete printing suite” with post-processing machinery and machine vision systems.
To accommodate the new machinery, Orbex revealed it will expand its factory floor space an additional 1,000 square metres.
“Investing in a large-scale 3D printing system like this says a lot about Orbex’s ambition in the European spaceflight sector,” said Martin Bullemer, MD of AMCM.
“If they are to lead the European market, they need the production reliability and speed that a large-scale 3D printing system like this will give them. And although this is a major purchase, it will allow for significant cost control for Orbex in the years to come.”
Orbex recently announced it had secured $24m in a funding round led by BGF and Octopus Ventures, one of the largest VCs in Europe.
The additional funding brings significant new investment in high technology employment opportunities and large-scale production facilities in the Highlands region of Scotland.
Planning permission was granted for Orbex’s home spaceport, Space Hub Sutherland, at the A’Mhoine peninsula in Sutherland in August 2020.
The A’Mhoine site is currently the only UK spaceport to receive planning permission, with construction expected to begin in 2021 and the first orbital launch expected in 2022.