Skyrora propels UK space missions with 3D printed rocket parts

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UK government aims to capture 10% of the
global space market by 2030, and with a combination of
private sector enterprise and advanced manufacturing (including
3D printing), a few companies have begun the countdown towards
that target.

Skyrora
is a privately-funded launch vehicle developer with sites
in Edinburgh, London, and the Ukrainian city of Dnipro. It aims
to send off its sub-orbital Skyrora-1 vehicle into space
in late 2018, which will lay the groundwork for Skyrora-XL, the
company’s three-stage space rocket.

A Skyrora engineer next
to a 3D printed rocket nozzle. Photo via Skyrora.

3D printing to enhance existing
technologies

Skyrora’s strategy combines advanced
manufacturing techniques, such as 3D printing, with proven
rocket technology – improving parts where necessary without
reinventing what already works well.

The first and second stage static firing tests
for the Skyrora-XL were successfully completed in January 2017,
and 3D models are now being tested based on the results. The
third stage, the landing stage, is yet to be completed or
tested.

With the Skyrora-1 vehicle, the company is
using 3D printing technology to create cost-effective
propulsion systems. These run on an environmentally-friendly
hydrogen peroxide-based fuel, which was also used by the UK’s
1971 Black Arrow launch program.

Skyrora’s Business Development Manager Daniel
Smith
told
SpaceNews,
 
“Things are
moving very rapidly at this point. We’ve already 3D printed
various parts of our sub-orbital test vehicle and are in
advanced talks about testing our engines here in
Britain.”

“We expect to grow our U.K. team substantially
in Q1 2018, particularly on the manufacturing side of the
business,” added Smith.

A rocket engine nozzle
3D printed on an EOS M400 3D printer. Photo via Skyrora.

3D printing lifts off

While Skyrora has not extensively revealed
which parts have been 3D printed, it has shown that the rocket
engine nozzle was SLM 3D printed using an EOS M 400 3D printer.
Additionally, a look at other companies incorporating 3D
printing into space rockets may provide further clues.

The rocket nozzle of the
Ariane 6 launch vehicle’s Vulcain 2.1
engine
was 3D printed by GKN Aerospace using laser
welding and laser metal deposition, while Aerojet
Rocketdyne’s RL10 rocket has 3D
printed thrust chambers.

Other companies have taken the technology
further. Both
Rocket Lab’s Rutherford engine

and
Amaero’s “Project X” Aerospike
engine
are chiefly made of 3D printed
components.

Looking at the similar components in the
sub-orbital Skyrora-1 vehicle, it seems most likely that
its engine thrust frame and combustion chambers will also be 3D
printed, either in Skyrora-1 or Skyrora-XL

Let us know what you think the best
application of 3D printing has been this year.

Make your nominations for the
3D Printing Industry Awards
2018
now.

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Featured image shows Skyrora engineers with an
assembled sub-orbital launch vehicle body. Photo via
Skyrora,

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