Orbex commissions a 3D printer that can produce 35+ rocket engines per year

Orbex reported on February 24 that it had contracted AMCM to develop a big-volume 3D printer for producing its rocket engines, following a $24 million funding round in December. Prime, which is a 2-stage launch vehicle driven by six first-phase and second-stage biopropane engines, is reportedly being designed by the Scottish micro launcher startup. The vehicle’s first flight is planned for the year 2022 from a planned launch site situated in Sutherland, Scotland.

Orbex says the 3D printer would be Europe’s largest, allowing it to manufacture over 35 rocket engines per year. Initially, the printer will be utilized to fine-tune the engine’s first- as well as second-stage models. “A huge-scale in-house 3D printing platform such as this gives us much better speed and versatility as we increase production,” stated Orbex Chief executive officer Chris Larmour. “Even though our rocket engines, as well as other vital systems, are now very advanced after years of research, a large-scale in-house 3D printing platform such as this gives us much greater speed and versatility as we increase production,” he added. “It ensures we will keep iterating and enhancing efficiency even more.”

Orbex’s 3D printer is centered on the German technology firm’s four-laser AMCM M 4K-4 metal printing device, which went into mass production last June. Launcher, which is a microlaunch startup centered in the United States, used an AMCM 3D printer to build test models of its E-2 rocket engine. The multimillion-dollar contract involves post-processing equipment and an autonomous imaging-based inspection device to verify prints’ accuracy in relation to the 3D printer itself.

Orbex states it will extend the manufacturing floor space of its production facility situated in Forres, Scotland, by 1,000 square meters to fit the 3D printer as well as its related equipment. In the year 2019, the Orbex Forres plant opened its doors. A rocket design and assembly facility, an operations center, and executive offices are all part of the 2,000-square-meter site. The plan for the facility’s expansion has also begun.

Customers have already signed up for six Prime launches, according to Orbex. The vehicle’s first launch is planned to hold an experimental payload for the Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd, which is a smallsat manufacturer. Larmour projected that the company would announce more customers in the coming months. Orbex is steadily developing its capacity to deploy small satellites safely and efficiently in the near future.