3D printing and other advanced technologies are making many things more accessible, and one of those is outer space. Companies such as Zero 2 Infinity are offering average people the opportunity to reach space, to send projects, experiments and other payloads into orbit. Founded in 2009, Zero 2 Infinity’s mission is to expand the realm of space to others besides large corporations, democratizing reach to schools, universities and small companies.

Zero 2 Infinity’s Bloostar rocket launches customers’ satellites into orbit on request, for the same cost as having them launched as a secondary payload. Typically, individuals and small organizations that want to launch a satellite have to hitch a ride on a larger rocket on a separate mission, and don’t have much choice as to the timing or the orbit it goes to. Companies such as Zero 2 Infinity, however, are allowing those individuals and small organizations to launch when and where they want to launch, for no more cost than catching a ride on a larger rocket.

3D printing plays a big part in keeping these rockets low cost, and Bloostar is about to get a 3D printed engine, with support from the Advanced Center for Aerospace Technology (FADA-CATEC). The organization has successfully 3D printed a combustion chamber for the engine – using a Renishaw RenAM 500M system in the process – reducing not only cost but mass, environmental impact and production time.

[Image: Zero 2 Infinity]

Bloostar’s engine is called Teide, after the highest mountain in Spain, an inactive volcano. Teide is located in Tenerife, in the Canary Islands, from which Bloostar will be launched. The first stage is a balloon that brings the rocket high enough that aerodynamic resistance is almost nonexistent, above 99% of the mass of the atmosphere. Compared to ground- or aircraft-based launchers, this method has a number of advantages – for one, the engines work more efficiently in near vacuum. Therefore, Teide has a unique design made to be launched from a high altitude, and is the most eco-friendly engine designed to date.

Artificial intelligence and neural networks will be used to optimize the cooling of the thrust chamber via structures that cannot be manufactured by any other means.

“Traditional rockets have had straight cooling channels because that’s all that could be manufactured,” said Jose Mariano Lopez-Urdiales, founder and CEO of Zero 2 Infinity. “When you put a flashlight in your ear, you see a wonderful tree-like structure of blood vessels. We don’t have straight rows of blood vessels in our ears. 3D printing and AI now allow rockets to evolve, like nature.”

Zero 2 Infinity has big goals – beyond sending payloads into orbit with Bloostar, the company also wants to actually send people into space with its pod, Bloon. It isn’t the only company working to send the projects of small companies, schools and individuals into space – the development of small satellites like CubeSats and the lowering costs of building rockets – in part thanks to 3D printing – have made satellite launch a competitive field. Zero 2 Infinity hopes to have an advantage through its simplified launch process.

“It’s amazing to work with a company like Zero 2 Infinity,” said Dr. Fernando Lasagni, HO Materials & Processes division at FADA-CATEC. “It’s something we were willing to do for a long time. We are committed to foster this development and hopefully we will have a fully tested part on relevant environment in short time.”

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