Orbex is a UK based space startup that has made it to the headlines because it recently unveiled the world’s biggest 3D printed rocket engine. The unveiled engine by Orbex is a single-piece, cryogenic liquid-fueled engine and has been installed in the second phase of the engineering prototype of Orbex Prime Launcher. As per the company, the engine is more powerful by volume than many heavy launchers already out there.
The Orbex Prime is undergoing development under the $7.3 million award from the British government. The second award worth $31 million is going to Lockheed Martin that is constructing the launch facilities in Sutherland in the Scottish Highlands and a fresh satellite deployment system that has been named Launch Orbital Maneuvering Vehicle (SL-OMV) capable of handling six CubeSats heading for six unique orbits.
As per Orbex, the Prime is about 30% lighter and 20% more efficient than other launchers that exist in the same category. That is because the engine has been 3D printed in a single piece as opposed to being assembled using different parts. This singularity-approach has helped the engine remove the weaknesses that exist in conventional engines because of welds and joints.
Furthermore, the rocket has been fueled using the central carbon-fiber tank that is filled using biopropane and is surrounded by an external tank of liquid oxygen. For those who do not know; biopropane is propane that is collected from biomass, agricultural waste, or sludge but remains chemically identical to the propane obtained from fossil fuels. According to Orbex, the biopropane is far more clean-burning and results in only 10% of the carbon emissions that are given out when fossil hydrocarbon fuels are burnt.
Chris Larmour, Orbex CEO, said, ‘Since the announcement in July 2018 that we had been chosen to launch from the Sutherland spaceport, Orbex has been on an incredible journey, largely behind-the-scenes. That is changing today, as we publicly reveal the company’s technical and commercial momentum. Not only do we have a full engineering prototype of the complete Stage two of the Prime rocket, but also a growing roster of customers hoping to be among the first to launch satellites from Scotland.’