Rocket engine flaring

3D-printed rocket engines tested in the UK

Image credit: Skyrora

A UK-based rocket company has begun tests of its new model of 3D-printed engines in space-like conditions in order to obtain a commercial licence.

Skyrora has begun a series of full-duration tests of its engines, as it awaits the Civil Aviation Authority's licence to carry out orbital launches from SaxaVord Spaceport in the Shetland Isles.

The engines have been 3D-printed by using Skyrora’s Skyprint 2 machine for the first time, a process the company claims is 66 per cent faster and 20 per cent cheaper than current manufacturing processes.  

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.


Skyrora's engine test site in Midlothian, Scotland / Skyrora

Image credit: Skyrora

If approved, the updated 70kN engine will become the first ever commercial engine to use a closed-cycle staged combustion system run on a propellant combination of hydrogen peroxide and kerosene, according to Skyrora.

Skyrora chief executive and founder Volodymyr Levykin said the new engines brought the company closer towards its first 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," he said. "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."

Trials will take place every week over the summer. They 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.

A successful test will be indicated by nominal chamber pressures and thrust levels with no damage to the hardware. 

If the tests are a success, the company would then begin scaling up production to test the engines on its three-stage launch vehicle, Skyrora XL - a 23-metre tall rocket with a payload capacity of 315kg.

Skyrora is testing its new 3D-printed rocket engines

Skyrora is testing its new 3D-printed rocket engines/ Skyrora

Image credit: Skyrora

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."

Skyrora’s head of engineering, Dr Jack James Marlow, said: “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.

"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."

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