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.
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.