A new rocket with a 3D printed engine which will deliver small satellites into the Earth’s orbit will blast off from the UK in 2021.
The rocket’s engine is described by the company as the ‘world’s largest’ 3D printed engine and is designed to cut down on carbon emissions.
British spaceflight company Orbex, plans to open their headquarters and rocket design facility in Sutherland in the Scottish Highlands.
The base in Forres, where they unveiled the rocket, will bring more than 130 jobs to the region.
Prime has been designed to take satellites into Earth’s orbit to altitudes of up to 776 miles (1,250 km).
Made from a specially-formulated lightweight carbon fibre and aluminium composite, Prime’s engine is cleaner than traditional space transportation.
It is engineered to work with bio-propane, a clean-burning, renewable fuel source that cuts carbon emissions by 90 per cent.
The company claims it’s fuel is 100 per cent renewable and cuts carbon emissions by 90 per cent.
Prime will make its maiden flight from Scotland in 2021, when it will carry an experimental payload from UK-based Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL), which manufactures small satellites.
Graham Turnock, chief executive of the UK Space Agency, which is part-funding the spaceport, said that Orbex’s new rocket design facility will ‘bring Britain one step closer to having its own domestic commercial launch capability’.
‘This firmly positions the UK as Europe’s frontrunner for those looking to Earth’s orbit and beyond for new opportunities,’ he said.
‘The new facility and future spaceport operations will help unlock vast economic and societal benefits not just in Scotland but right across the UK.’
Prime will make its maiden flight from Scotland in 2021, when it will carry an experimental payload from UK-based Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL), which manufactures small satellite
Prime has been designed to take satellites into Earth’s orbit to altitudes of up to 776 miles (1,250 km). The new headquarters in Forres will combine a rocket design and integration facility. Here, the rocket launches proposed Sutherland site
The new headquarters in Forres will combine a rocket design and integration facility, an operations centre and executive offices.
Secretary of State for business Greg Clark welcomed the plans for a spaceport in Sutherland a ‘significant investment’.
‘Orbex’s rocket design facility will bring more than 100 new jobs to the Scottish Highlands region – this is our modern Industrial Strategy in action,’ he said.
‘The space sector is a great British success story and we are working closely with industry to ensure we thrive in the commercial space age.
‘New innovations, capabilities and expertise are driving significant growth, with the sector generating close to £15 billion in income each year.’
The 2,000 square metre headquarters is in Forres, in the north east of Scotland. The new base will bring more than 130 jobs to the region, combining rocket design and integration facility, an operations centre and executive offices
Chris Larmour, Orbex chief executive, said: ‘Since the announcement in July 2018 that we had been chosen to launch from the Sutherland spaceport, Orbex has been on an incredible journey, largely behind-the scenes.
‘That is changing today, as we publicly reveal the company’s technical and commercial momentum.
‘Not only do we have a full engineering prototype of the complete Stage 2 of the Prime rocket, but also a growing roster of customers hoping to be among the first to launch satellites from Scotland.’
Scotland’s innovation Minister Ivan McKee MSP welcomed the new facility.
He said: ‘The new Orbex facility at Forres is an incredibly welcome development for Scotland’s space sector.
‘It brings us one step closer to reaching our ambitions of hosting the first orbital launch facilities in Europe and will complete our full offering to build, launch and operate satellites right here in Scotland.’
WHAT IS 3D PRINTING AND HOW DOES IT WORK?
First invented in the 1980s by Chuck Hull, an engineer and physicist, 3D printing technology – also called additive manufacturing – is the process of making an object by depositing material, one layer at a time.
Similarly to how an inkjet printer adds individual dots of ink to form an image, a 3D printer adds material where it is needed, based on a digital file.
Many conventional manufacturing processes involved cutting away excess materials to make a part, and this can lead to wastage of up to 30 pounds (13.6 kilograms) for every one pound of useful material, according to the Energy Department’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.
By contrast, with some 3D printing processes about 98 per cent of the raw material is used in the finished part, and the method can be used to make small components using plastics and metal powders, with some experimenting with chocolate and other food, as well as biomaterials similar to human cells.
3D printers have been sued to manufacture everything from prosthetic limbs to robots, and the process follows these basic steps:
· Creating a 3D blueprint using computer-aided design (CAD) software
· Preparing the printer, including refilling the raw materials such as plastics, metal powders and binding solutions.
· Initiating the printing process via the machine, which builds the object.
· 3D printing processes can vary, but material extrusion is the most common, and it works like a glue gun: the printing material is heated until it liquefies and is extruded through the print nozzle
· Using information from the digital file, the design is split into two-dimensional cross-sections so the printers knows where to put the material
· The nozzle deposits the polymer in thin layers, often 0.1 millimetre (0.004 inches) thick.
· The polymer rapidly solidifies, bonding to the layer below before the build platform lowers and the print head adds another layer (depending on the object, the entire process can take anywhere from minutes to days.)
· After the printing is finished, every object requires some post-processing, ranging from unsticking the object from the build platform to removing support, to removing excess powders.
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