Orbex has unveiled its Prime rocket for the first time at the opening of its new headquarters and rocket design facility in Forres, Scottish Highlands. The rocket is said to have the world’s largest 3D printed rocket engine.
Designed to deliver small satellites into Earth’s orbit, the rocket was unveiled at an opening ceremony attended by members of the UK and European space community as well as local community stakeholders.
The completed engineering prototype of the Stage 2 rocket (the stage that will transit into orbital flight after launch) is made from a specially-formulated lightweight carbon fibre and aluminium composite and includes the 3D printed rocket engine.
Orbex Prime is a completely re-thought and re-engineered two-stage rocket, designed by Orbex aerospace engineers with professional experience from organisations including NASA, ESA and Ariane, as well as other commercial spaceflight companies. Thanks to its novel architecture, Prime launchers are up to 30% lighter and 20% more efficient than any other vehicle in the small launcher category, packing more power per cubic litre than many heavy launchers.
Seen for the first time, the 3D printed rocket engine was manufactured in a single piece without joins, in partnership with additive manufacturer SLM Solutions. Given the extreme temperature and pressure fluctuations involved in space flight, this gives the engine an advantage over other rocket engines, which can suffer from weaknesses associated with joining and welding. It is also the first commercial rocket engine designed to work with bio-propane, a clean-burning, renewable fuel source that cuts carbon emissions by 90% compared to fossil hydrocarbon fuels, supplied by Orbex’s new exclusive BioLPG fuel partner Calor.
Orbex first came into the public eye in July of 2018, when the UK Space Agency announced that Orbex had been chosen to launch from the proposed spaceport in Sutherland in the Scottish Highlands, as part of the main consortium. At that time, the company announced that it had already won £30 million ($40 million) in private and public backing for the project, making it one of Europe's best-funded private launch companies.
The company revealed the identities of more customers that would be among the first to launch their satellites from the Sutherland spaceport. On Orbex Prime's maiden flight from Scotland in 2021, the rocket will carry an experimental payload from UK-based Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL), the leading manufacturer of small satellites. This launch will represent an important first for the UK commercial space industry, demonstrating the UK's end-to-end launch capability with a UK rocket launching a UK satellite from a UK spaceport.