Orbex inaugurates new large scale rocket engine production facility

After receiving a truckload of enormous boxes a few weeks ago, we're pleased to let you know that our new custom-made AMCM M4K 3D printer is now printing full scale monobody rocket engines and turbopumps in-house at Orbex.

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Orbex has been manufacturing 3D printed rocket engines since 2018, gradually building up a wealth of knowledge and experience with the technology, process and production systems. This 3D printer, which has a very large z-axis, is currently the largest high precision metal 3D printer available in Europe, and Orbex operates the only one in the European space sector, which allows us to build what we believe are currently the world's largest monobody rocket engines.

The very large print volume allows us to print our full main stage rocket engines in a single print run. This means we don't need to join smaller sections with welds, bolts or flanges, eliminating the need for any unreliable hot joints, avoiding outdated and error-prone additional processing steps, reducing mass and fully automating production.

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The AMCM M4K offers us a very fast, accurate printing system, with a resolution of 40 microns, and the rapid ability to change materials for different applications. To enhance this we have also specified the four-laser system, which allows us to print much more quickly than single-laser systems, enabling the rapid iteration of designs.

In fact, we can produce a full main stage rocket engine in just a few days: just start the print run, and after a few days of continuous printing a rocket engine emerges from the powder bed - complete, in a single piece, with no need for any welding or risky segment joining.

To get to the point where we can simply push a button and produce a large, new rocket engine, we have worked closely with our supplier and partner AMCM over the past 2-3 years to develop a design and manufacturing process that ensures the quality and symmetry of our rocket engines, such that each one now comes out of the printer perfectly formed.

Because of the scale and mass of the components we are producing this is quite a technically challenging process, and there are many innovative steps - so we will keep that part of the production toolchain a secret for now.

We have also installed a new de-powdering facility to automate how the un-sintered superalloy powders are removed from the engine parts after production, using a large machine from Solukon - the enormous SFM-AT1000-S.

This machine further simplifies the engine production line by automating the removal of unused powder from within the finished chambers before they are passed on for non-destructive inspection and finishing.

But as big as these machines are, they are not the biggest machines that we own - watch out for more updates on our propulsion and carbon fibre production facilities soon.