Orbex unveils the world’s largest 3D-printed rocket engine, which is also the first commercial rocket engine to run on bio-propane.
UK-based spaceflight startup, Orbex, has publicly revealed its rocket (named Prime) during an opening ceremony last 7 February 2019 in Scotland. Prime will be powered by the world’s largest 3D-printed rocket engine to date.
Prime’s rocket engine is non-conventional due to its unique manufacturing and fuel. The engine is said to be the first commercial rocket engine that is capable of using bio-propane as its fuel. Bio-propane is a “cleaner fuel” as compared to fossil-based hydrocarbons. This fuel is renewable and produces up to 90% fewer carbon emissions than conventional hydrocarbon fuels.
The engine is manufactured as one piece, unlike typical rocket engines which are composed of several parts connected by mechanical joints and welds. Connections made by mechanical joints and welding may compromise the structural integrity of the engine. This is due to the large vibrations and extreme fluctuations of pressure and temperature that the engine experiences during operation.
The unique rocket engine will power Orbex’s Prime rocket, which will launch small satellites into space. Prime can deliver payloads of up to 220 kg in its 1.30 m diameter payload bay. Payloads can also be delivered to altitudes between 200 to 1,250 km.
Prime is a two-stage rocket that is incorporated with innovative technologies. Orbex estimates that its rocket is lighter by 30% and more efficient by 20% than other rockets in the same category. Prime also features a “zero-shock staging and payload separation system” which does not leave any orbital debris.
Investors and customers have expressed confidence in Orbex, as evidenced by investments and advance orders it has received. As of 2018, the company has won public and private support amounting to $40 million dollars.
The future looks very promising for Orbex. In 2021, Prime is scheduled to deliver an experimental payload for Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. Astrocast has chosen Orbex to launch its 64 nanosatellites to support the development of its network to provide Internet of Things globally. Elecnor Deimos has also confirmed a contract with Orbex for up to twenty satellite launches.