It was just a couple days ago that we covered the Singaporean startup Gilmour Space Technologies, which had used a unique formulation of 3D printed fuel to launch their self-made rocket into sub-orbit. The particular feat sounds strange, sure, but the overall use of 3D printing technology is a practice that is becoming increasingly common in the space exploration industry. In fact, for the rising number of privatized space businesses and services, additive manufacturing could already be considered a major ally in the current race to outer space.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that 3D printing will act as the end-all solution for the production of these satellites and spaceships, but it’s oftentimes beneficial in enhancing the manufacturing process. The Tucson, Arizona-based disruptive space innovator Vector Space Systems recently announced the successful test launch of their P-20 Rocket, which was equipped with a single-piece injector that was produced via 3D printing technology.The test launch was conducted last weekend in Mojave, California, and was Vector’s first customer payload through their partnership with the Finnish company Iceye, which was testing the electrical and mechanical resilience of their micro satellite’s core computing and communications system. And, although it may not be 3D printed fuel per say, the test flight also validated Vector’s unique high performance engine, which runs on a propellant combination of liquid oxygen and densified propylene. Additionally, Vector also successfully functionally demonstrated the ignition and operation of their 3D printed single-piece injector.
“This successful launch, our very first vehicle launch as Vector Space Systems, not only demonstrates the maturity of our launch technology, flight operations and propulsion systems, but also shows our commitment to supporting new-space startups by including a customer payload in our very first launch,” said Jim Cantrell, CEO and co-founder of Vector Space Systems. “Vector has already quickly and successfully progressed through not only engine testing, but all the way into initial flight operations, and now the inclusion of a customer payload, putting us on a fast-track to orbital launches by 2018.”
The P-20 test rocket was originally developed by the Garvey Spacecraft Corporation, which was acquired by Vector earlier this year. The rocket is essentially a sub-scale test platform to test the technology and functionality of the second stage of Vector’s launch vehicle, which proved capable of placing 50kg into the Earth’s sub-orbit. Aside from their unique fuel formulation, the most intriguing part of Vector’s test flight is the functional and operational use of a 3D printed injector, which they were able to produce in a single-piece.As for their long-standing partner in the launch, Iceye is working to expand access to synthetic aperture radar (SAR) data in order to support decision making in an array of critical areas, such as trade, exploration, relief efforts, farming, and environmental protection. This successful test launch is a major step towards their overarching plan to launch and operate a constellation of micro satellites equipped with their own SAR sensor technology. Vector has provided Iceye with affordable and efficient launch-enabling platforms and vehicles, and with their rapid emergence in the micro-satellite market, plan to perform their first orbital launch in 2018. Discuss this new technology over in the 3D Printed Rocket Injector forum at 3DPB.com. [Source: Blackbird PR News]