UK space blasts out of orbit with world’s largest 3D printed rocket engine

Posted on 8 Feb 2019 by Maddy White

UK-based company Orbex unveiled its "Prime" rocket, powered by the world's largest 3D printed rocket engine at its base in Scotland.

orbex space engine = image orbex
Orbex’s Prime engine – image courtesy of Prime.

The rocket will reportedly be the first British-built rocket to take off from a British launch site.

It is designed to transport small satellites into orbit, with the start-up company hoping to begin launches in late 2021 from their Sutherland spaceport.

Orbex has completed engineering on the rocket, which is made from a specially-formulated lightweight carbon fibre and aluminium composite, and includes the largest 3-D printed rocket engine ever.

The rocket engine was uniquely manufactured in a single piece. 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 reportedly 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. A big step for not just space but renewable fuel sources.

orbex space engine = image orbex

Why is the British space sector important?

Productivity in the UK’s space sector is nearly three times the national average for other sectors, and it has a skilled workforce that create £140,000 of value per person, according to the government.

It is an industry that is rapidly growing, and one that creates many economic opportunities and enables Britain to showcase its innovation capabilities, as the figures below illustrate.

The report: ‘Size & Health of the UK Space Industry 2018’ published last week by the government shows that, compared to the 2016 survey:

  • Income is up from £13.7bn to £14.8bn
  • Exports are up from £5bn to £5.5bn
  • UK space sector builds major parts for one in four of the world’s commercial telecoms satellites
  • 73% of organisations n the space sector expecting income growth over the next three years
  • 93% of organisations predict workforce to grow

Much of this growth is due to space manufacturing, including the production of satellites, ground systems and components, which increased at a rate of 27% per year.

39 new companies are added to the UK space sector every year and employment is up from 38,522 to 41,900. Britain also continues to outperform the global space sector, showing that the market could be further optimised. Since 2007/08, the UK has seen cumulative growth of 91% compared with world growth of 42%.