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3D Printing in Rocket Building: A Technological Revolution by Skyrora and Relativity Space

The advent of 3D printing technology has brought a significant transformation to numerous industries, with the aerospace sector being no exception. Two pioneering companies at the forefront of this revolution are Skyrora and Relativity Space, both leveraging 3D printing to reshape the process of building rockets.

Skyrora’s Achievements in 3D Printing

Skyrora, an Edinburgh-based rocket company, has successfully 3D printed a new model of its 70kN orbital rocket engine. The company made use of its proprietary Skyprint 2 machine, which cut the production time in half and reduced costs significantly. The new design incorporates an improved engine cooling chamber, enhancing the cooling process and extending the engine’s lifecycle. Compared to the original model, the 70 kN engines can now be manufactured 66% faster at a 20% cost reduction.

The updated 70 kN engine, once qualified, will be the first ever commercial engine to use a closed-cycle staged combustion system run on a propellant combination of Hydrogen Peroxide and Kerosene. While historically not used due to its complexity, this design’s higher specific impulse is expected to boost the engine’s overall efficiency.

Skyrora is not only focusing on technological advancements but also on sustainability. It has developed its own eco-friendly fuel, Ecosene, made from waste plastics. The company’s commitment to sustainable design is indicative of the innovation currently taking place in the UK space sector.

In August, Skyrora successfully completed a static fire test of the second stage of its flagship Skyrora XL orbital rocket. A landmark inaugural orbital launch has been scheduled for 2023 from the SaxaVord Space Centre in the Shetland Islands.

Relativity Space: Pioneering the Future of 3D Printed Rockets

On the other side of the Atlantic, Relativity Space, a California private aerospace startup, has also been making strides in 3D printing technology for rocket building. The company has constructed the world’s first 3D printed rocket, the Terran 1, 85% of which is 3D printed with metal alloys. This includes the nine Aeon 1 engines on its first stage and the Aeon Vacuum engine on its second stage. The Terran 1, which stands 110 feet tall with a diameter of 7.5 feet, is the largest ever 3D printed object and is made with the world’s largest 3D metal printers.

Relativity’s ultimate goal is to produce a rocket that is 95% 3D printed. The Terran 1 is powered by engines using liquid oxygen and liquid natural gas—dubbed the “propellants of the future”—that could potentially fuel a voyage to Mars. The company is also in the process of building a larger rocket, the Terran R, capable of putting a payload of 44,000 pounds into low Earth orbit. The first launch of a Terran R, designed to be fully reusable, is scheduled for next year. The company’s 3D printed rockets use 100 times fewer parts than traditional rockets and can be built from raw materials in just 60 days.

Relativity Space has already signed commercial launch contracts worth $1.65 billion, primarily for the Terran R, demonstrating the growing market interest in 3D printed rockets.

The Promise of 3D Printing in Rocket Building

The use of 3D printing technology in rocket building offers numerous advantages. It allows for faster

manufacturing times, cost reduction, and increased design flexibility. The technology also offers the potential for on-demand production and customization, giving companies the ability to quickly adapt to new design specifications or mission requirements.

Skyrora and Relativity Space’s successful application of 3D printing technology in rocket building shows the potential for significant advancements in the aerospace sector. As this technology continues to evolve and mature, it could provide a crucial pathway towards more efficient, economical, and sustainable space exploration.

The journey is still in its early stages, and challenges remain. However, the commitment and groundbreaking work of these companies are paving the way for a new era in space exploration. With continued innovation, the sky is not the limit—it’s just the beginning.