UK-based spaceflight company Orbex unveiled its Prime rocket, which is designed to deliver small satellites into Earth’s orbit. The completed engineering prototype of the Stage 2 rocket (the stage that will transit into orbital flight after launch) is made from a specially-formulated lightweight carbon fiber and aluminum composite and includes the world’s largest 3D printed rocket engine.
The 3D printed engine.
Orbex Prime is a completely re-thought and re-engineered two-stage rocket, designed by Orbex aerospace engineers with professional experience from organisations including NASA, ESA and Ariane, as well as other commercial spaceflight companies.
Due to a novel architecture, Prime launchers are up to 30% lighter and 20% more efficient than any other vehicle in the small launcher category, packing more power per cubic liter than many heavy launchers, Orbex says.
The 3-D printed rocket engine was uniquely manufactured in a single piece without joins in partnership with additive manufacturer SLM Solutions. 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 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, supplied by Orbex’s new exclusive BioLPG fuel partner Calor.
Orbex has also created a novel zero-shock staging and payload separation system called Magic, which leaves zero orbital debris.
Orbex can accommodate a range of payload capacities between 100kg-220kg, to altitudes of between 200km-1250km.
In July of 2018, the UK Space Agency announced that Orbex had been chosen to launch from the proposed spaceport in Sutherland in the Scottish Highlands, as part of the main consortium. At that time, the company announced that it had already won £30 million ($39 million) in private and public backing for the project, making it Europe’s best-funded private launch company, straight out of stealth mode.
On Orbex Prime’s maiden flight from Scotland in 2021, the rocket will carry an experimental payload from UK-based Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL), the world’s leading manufacturer of small satellites. This launch will represent an important first for the UK commercial space industry, demonstrating the UK’s end-to-end launch capability with a UK rocket launching a UK satellite from a UK spaceport.
Orbex also announced that Swiss-based Astrocast SA has selected Orbex to launch multiple nanosatellites for the development of a planet-wide Internet of Things (IoT) network. Astrocast’s satellite-based IoT network will eventually include 64 nanosatellites, spread across eight strata above the Earth to deliver IoT connectivity across the planet, including regions currently considered remote or inaccessible.
One of the leading companies in the European space sector and strategic investor in Orbex, Elecnor Deimos, has also confirmed that it has contracted with Orbex for up to twenty satellite launches.