Edinburgh Skyrora has achieved a space industry first by testing a fully 3D-printed, commercial rocket engine.
The firm used its base in Cornwall to carry out engine checks on its Scottish-built XL rocket, the firm’s main orbital launch vehicle, marking the first time testing has been carried out on an engine of this kind in the UK.
The engine’s 3D-printed technology represents a landmark moment as it allows cooling channels to be embedded into the walls of the combustion chamber, meaning it requires fewer parts. This makes assembling the engine much more straightforward, ultimately boosting reliability and cost-effectiveness.
Skyrora’s rocket also features stop-start technology allowing it to deliver satellites to different orbits – similar to a school bus dropping pupils off at different locations on its route.
Vladimir Levykin, CEO at Skyrora, said: “It’s always exciting to reach testing stage and even more so for our XL rocket. Not only is it our main orbital launch vehicle but this is the first time a commercial, fully 3D-printed bi-liquid rocket engine has been tested in the UK.
“Naturally we’re delighted that the tests have gone so well over both testing days and it’s testament to the dedicated work of the team that we’ve reached this stage so smoothly.
“Our tests will check engine performance to trial our one of a kind mobile rocket test laboratory and provide valuable staff training. It’s been built in Scotland and gives our team a chance to make sure everything works as per their plans and designs.”
Skyrora’s deployment at Cornwall Airport Newquay has been supported by the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), through its Enterprise Zone Infrastructure Fund, and the Spaceport Cornwall team
The firm is working towards a ‘green’ fuel that can be used in future launches, which will make use of discarded, unrecyclable plastic waste and will emit 45 per cent fewer greenhouse gases than traditional engines based on liquid oxygen.
Skyrora uses technology similar to famed British rocket ‘Black Arrow’ which enjoyed four successful launches between 1969 and 1971 - the only successful UK-led launches.
It aims to complete the inaugural launch of its Skyrora XL vehicle from a British spaceport by 2022.