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Say hello to the world’s biggest 3D-printed rocket engine

Say hello to the world’s biggest 3D-printed rocket engine
[Photo: courtesy of Orbex]

Scotland is about to enter the space race, and they are doing it in style. Orbex has just unveiled its Prime rocket, which includes the world’s largest 3D-printed rocket engine.

The rocket itself is made of a carbon fiber and aluminum composite that’s supposed to be 30% lighter than any other craft in its category. Orbex says its engine is the first commercial rocket engine to be designed to work with bio-propane, a “clean-burning, 100% renewable fuel source” that cuts carbon, a welcome addition to the space race. Thanks to its 3D printed design, the rocket engine may be safer, as it was uniquely manufactured in a single piece without joints or seams or welds, which could mean it is more likely to withstand extreme temperature and pressure fluctuations.

[Photo: courtesy of Orbex]
The new Prime rocket is designed to help Orbex achieve its dreams of launching a fleet of nanosatellites to altitudes of up to 776 miles. While it isn’t nearly as far along in the process as SpaceX or Blue Origin, as it hasn’t launched a rocket yet, it does already have a contract with the Swiss-based company Astrocast to launch up to 20 nanosatellites for the development of a planet-wide Internet of Things (IoT) network. It hopes to launch at least 10 nanosatellites for the company by 2023. To achieve that timeline, it already has £30 million (US$40 million) in private and public backing for the project, making it Europe’s best-funded private launch company, straight out of stealth mode.

Orbex Prime’s maiden flight is expected to launch from Scotland in 2021, carrying an experimental payload from U.K.-based Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL), the world’s leading manufacturer of small satellites. The launch is more than just a test run, though. It will demonstrate that the U.K. is firmly in the space race with a U.K.-built rocket, launching a U.K.-built satellite, from a U.K. spaceport.

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