Orbex is building Prime, a commercial orbital rocket, of an optimized blend of lightweight carbon-fiber and aluminum composites, making the rocket up to 30 percent lighter than other rockets of its size.
Orbex has big plans for the next few years, including small-satellite launches from an as-yet-unbuilt spaceport and launching a dedicated ride-share mission in 2022 for a new client, TriSept. The key to achieving these lofty goals is Orbex’s Prime, an orbital rocket fashioned of an optimized blend of carbon fiber and aluminum composites.
Orbex installed a high-speed carbon-fiber-winding machine at its headquarters in Scotland. Company officials explained, “This 18-meter-long machine automates the rapid weaving of intricate mixes of materials to build the main rocket structures.” A full-sized autoclave was also installed, creating the ability to process large rocket parts, such as main stage fuel tanks, that are ready to weather the extreme environment in space, including tolerating massive pressures of up to 500 times atmospheric pressure.
Each rocket weighs just 1.5 metric tons, thanks to the use of the advanced materials of carbon fiber and aluminum composites. Orbex Prime will be 30 percent lighter than rockets of the same size and will accelerate from 0 to 1,330 km/h in just 60 seconds.
The 3D printed rocket engines are manufactured in a single piece, eliminating the risks of weakness from joining. Prime will be fueled by bio-propane which burns cleanly and reduces carbon emissions by 90 percent compared to kerosene-based rocket fuels. The Orbex rockets are designed to be reusable and leave no orbital debris.
Chris Larmour, CEO of Orbex, said, “We’re creating rockets in a way that hasn’t been done before…The whole point of NewSpace – private enterprise getting involved in spaceflight – is to provide faster, better and cheaper access to space. Burning through hundreds of millions of dollars on robotic assembly lines or hundreds of staff to produce heavy, metal rockets is an antiquated approach. Building a modern space business means updating the manufacturing ethos to be faster, more agile and more flexible. That’s what we’re doing at Orbex.”