Orbex unveils 3D-printed rocket engine

Orbex unveils 3D-printed rocket engine

Louis Dillon

Orbex has introduced the world's largest singe-piece rocket engine 3D printed on the SLM800 Selective Laser Melting Machine, a structure "30 per cent lighter and 20 per cent more efficient than any other launch vehicle in its category", according to the UK-based company.

Orbex also welcomed its new rocket, Prime, at the opening of its state-of-the-art headquarters in Forrest, Scotland.

The novel launcher uses 100 per cent renewable fuel, which cut carbon emissions by 90 per cent, as well as containing zero-shock staging and payload separation, "resulting in zero orbital debris", a growing concern in the space industry.

SLM Solutions developed a "unique set of parameters optimised for this particular geometry" to transfer the rocket design into selective melting production, alongside Orbex aerospace engineers.

“Our aim during the process was to fulfil the quality expectations of the Orbex team, keep the functionality of the part and make it suitable for additive manufacturing," said Lukas Pankiewicz, applications specialist at SLM Solutions.

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"Every single support structure used in data preparation has been customised to obtain the best quality in every section of the engine, taking post-processing into consideration as well.”

Pankiewicz, working closely with the design team at Orbex, ensured the part built successfully with the required material properties and dimensional accuracy.

“The SLM Solutions team showed true dedication and in-depth knowledge of our work. I'm looking forward to continuing this collaboration in 2019 and onwards. Orbex and SLM Solutions have solved some important puzzle pieces which will change the space business.” said Jonas Bjarnoe, chief technology officer of Orbex.

The SLM800 is a large-format, metal additive manufacturing system that features a 260x500mm power bed that can build parts up to 800mm tall, meaning the Prime engine could be built in a special nickel alloy in a single piece.

“This has always been what SLM Solutions is about,” said Dr Axel Schulz, chief sales officer of SLM Solutions.

“Members of our team helped invent the selective laser melting technology! We’ve always wanted that technology to succeed – which isn’t just about selling SLM machines but creating that paradigm shift for the customer to be successful with their process. SLM Solutions consulted Orbex on how to make the technology best work for them and transferred that knowledge to ensure their successful implementation as they ramp up to production.”

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