Skyrora to begin tests of additively manufactured orbital rocket engine ahead of commercial launch

June 26, 2023

June 26, 2023

Skyrora is additively manufacturing and testing rocket engines for small satellite launch vehicles, ahead of commercial launch (Courtesy Skyrora)
Skyrora is additively manufacturing and testing rocket engines for small satellite launch vehicles, ahead of commercial launch (Courtesy Skyrora)

Skyrora, a UK-based developer and manufacturer of rocket engines for small satellite launch vehicles, headquartered in Edinburgh, Scotland, has begun a series of full-duration tests to qualify the updated design of its 70kN additively manufactured engine in preparation for its first commercial orbital launch. The engines have been built using Skyrora’s Skyprint 2, a hybrid Directed Energy Deposition (DED) machine capable of both Additive Manufacturing and machining in the same production cell.

By enabling the Additive Manufacturing and machining on the same bed, Skyprint 2 is said to reduce process complexity, cost and build time. Compared to the original model, Skyrora’s 70 kN engines can now be manufactured approximately 66% faster at a 20% cost reduction.

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The engine tests, taking place at Skyrora’s test site in Midlothian, Scotland, will evaluate various parameters including life cycle and full operational envelope testing while the engine runs for 250 seconds, the same amount of time that it will run in a real mission to reach orbit. Trials will continue throughout the summer, and a successful test will be indicated by nominal chamber pressures and thrust levels, with no damage to the hardware.

Skyrora's engine test site in Midlothian, Scotland, is the largest in the UK (Courtesy Skyrora)
Skyrora’s engine test site in Midlothian, Scotland, is the largest in the UK (Courtesy Skyrora)

The new engine design features an improved engine cooling chamber to increase the efficiency of the cooling process and, in turn, extend the engine’s life cycle. The successful completion of this series of tests will mark a key milestone within the company’s contract under the European Space Agency (ESA)’s Commercial Space Transportation Services and Support Programme.

Volodymyr Levykin, CEO and founder, stated, “The new models of 3D printed engines are bringing Skyrora closer towards efficient commercial orbital launch. With our purpose-built rocket manufacturing and testing facilities in Scotland, we are proud to be localising as much of the launch value chain as possible. The new engine technology developed by Skyrora’s engineers and the commitment to a sustainable design are a testament to the innovation taking place in the UK space sector.”

The company will use its Skyprint 2 hybrid DED Additive Manufacturing machine to produce the engines (Courtesy Skyrora)
The company will use its Skyprint 2 hybrid DED Additive Manufacturing machine to produce the engines (Courtesy Skyrora)

The updated engine design was fully developed using Skyrora’s in-house Additive Manufacturing capabilities, with support from ESA’s Boost! programme, and will act as a critical component on the first and second stages of Skyrora’s XL orbital vehicle.

A collaboration with the National Manufacturing Institute of Scotland (NMIS) will qualify the machine, materials, and process of machining for Skyprint 2. These qualifications will enable Skyprint 2 to be used by third parties commercially, further diversifying Skyrora’s commercial offering within the new space market.

Jorgen Bru, Commercial Services Manager at the European Space Agency added, “Skyrora is making important progress towards the 70kN engine qualification, which is one of the key objectives of the pre-commercial launch service development activities supported by ESA’s Boost! programme. ESA is continuing to support Skyrora along the way to offer new commercial launch services for the benefit of a competitive space sector in Europe.”

Upon completion of the engine qualification programme, Skyrora intends to build a series of production engines to test the full first stage of Skyrora XL, the final stage to be tested prior to a demo orbital launch. The company has already successfully tested the third and second stages of the vehicle in 2020 and 2022 respectively, with the recent second stage test being the largest of its kind to be conducted in the UK in half a century.

“We’re coming very close to finalising our engine qualification programme after a long journey of technical progress, which will be a massive success for the team,” commented Skyrora’s Head of Engineering, Dr Jack James Marlow. “This is a key milestone which will qualify one of the main subsystems of our orbital launch vehicle to the correct standards for commercial operations, and as such, is a significant step in the journey to orbital launch. This progress would not be possible without the hard work of the team, who have done an amazing job enabling rapid fire testing.”

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June 26, 2023

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