UK-based space launch company Orbex has revealed it will employ a huge custom 3D printer from EOS’s AMCM (Additive Manufacturing Customized Machines) business to build rocket engines. 

Headquartered in Scotland with design and testing facilities in Denmark, Orbex says this new in-house capability will enable it to ramp up production for more than 35 large-scale rocket engine and main stage turbopump systems per year ahead of its plans to launch rockets from Space Hub Sutherland at the A’Mhoine peninsula in Sutherland in 2022.

The company, which has previously adopted SLM Solution’s metal additive manufacturing technology, plans to produce lightweight and single part structures using custom blends of titanium and aluminium to withstand the extreme pressures and temperature conditions of spaceflight. These printed components will form part of Orbex’s 19-metre long Prime “microlauncher” rocket, designed to deliver small satellites into polar orbits around the Earth and fuelled by bio-propane, a clean-burning, renewable fuel which reduces CO2 emissions by 90% compared to kerosene-based fuels.  

“Although our rocket engines and other critical systems are already quite mature after years of testing, a large-scale in-house 3D printing system like this gives us far greater speed and agility as we ramp up production,” said Chris Larmour, CEO of Orbex. “It means we can continue to iterate and drive up performance even further. Longer term, as we get ready for multiple launches per year, it will give us greater control over our costs and supply chain.”

The company is said to have signed a “multi-million pound deal” with AMCM which will include the printer, post-processing machinery and ‘Machine Vision’ for inspection. Orbex has also expanded its factory with an additional 1,000 square metres of floor space to accommodate the new kit following a 24 million USD investment round led by BGF and Octopus Ventures. 

“Investing in a large-scale 3D printing system like this says a lot about Orbex’s ambition in the European spaceflight sector,” said Martin Bullemer, MD of AMCM. “If they are to lead the European market, they need the production reliability and speed that a large-scale 3D printing system like this will give them. And although this is a major purchase, it will allow for significant cost control for Orbex in the years to come.”

AMCM’s large-scale custom built systems have previously been adopted by a number of customers for commercial space applications including Launcher, which was one of its first customers and used a modified EOS M 400 with 1000 mm Z axis to build an E-2 engine combustion chamber in a single piece, while over in the U.S., metal AM specialist Sintavia recently announced plans to use two AMCM printers to 3D print rocket components in a North American first.