AM Investment Strategies
AMS Spring 2023

X-Bow Exits Stealth Mode with Solid 3D Printed Rocket Motors

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Space technology company X-Bow Launch Systems has emerged from stealth mode to reveal its solid-fuel rocket motors, along with a suite of small launch vehicles for both orbital and suborbital launch services. Focused on booster technology and launch operations, the company debuts as one of the leading firms in its niche, not just because of its cutting-edge additively manufactured solid rocket motors but also thanks to its multiple contracts with U.S. government agencies, including the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), the Defense Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.

Founded in 2016 with a mission to bring innovation to the national security, defense, and space industries, X-Bow can build fully customizable, low-cost motors on short timelines through its efficient and effective 3D printing techniques. The fast-growing company has spent the past six years developing its disruptive products to provide customizable motors, vehicles, and missions.

Tackling some of the most pressing space exploration challenges is just what a lot of companies are trying to achieve. So what makes X-Bow different from the competition? According to the company, its new class of highly flexible, reliable, and ultra-responsive solid rocket motors introduces new products to a market that “has not seen significant technological change for decades.”

Thanks to the disruptive nature of 3D printing, X-Bow engineers can design and manufacture solid rocket motors in a small footprint, with customizable capabilities for each specific mission. This approach contrasts with current industry practices that require significant infrastructure, accrue extremely high costs, and take months and even years to build, not to mention design constraints.

Unlike traditional solid rocket motor manufacturers, X-Bow is dedicated to providing affordable access to orbit for commercial and government payloads. The company’s product line includes propellants, motors, and turnkey launch services available to government and commercial space customers.

X-Bow's rendering of its future small launch vehicles.

X-Bow’s rendering of its future small launch vehicles. Image courtesy of X-Bow Systems.

Staffed with veteran aerospace professionals, the company has grown at an incredible rate. It has been on a hiring spree during the last year, adding great talent to its workforce, which has now surpassed 60 employees strategically located across the country, including at its headquarters in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and other states like California, Alabama, Colorado, Texas, and Washington D.C.

“X-Bow is leveraging a unique combination of technologies with an improved manufacturing model to serve existing aerospace markets and enable new ones. Our breakthrough 3D printing technology is positioned to rapidly innovate the solid propulsion and energetics markets just as SpaceX revolutionized the launch market. Our mission is to modernize solid motor production through additive manufacturing while dramatically improving unit economics” said Co-Founder and CEO, Jason Hundley.

While on stealth mode, the team at X-Bow partnered with the AFRL’s in-house team to accelerate the development of a rocket propulsion system for air-launched missiles. The collaboration led to developing a containerized, solid rocket motor production capability that uses additive manufacturing technology for fast, tailored performance. Part of AFRL’s Rocket Factory In-a-Box (RFIB) program, the project will help weapon logistics and prove beneficial for warfighters and Major Commands, including the Air Force Special Operations Command and Pacific Air Forces.

Additionally, the team was also engaged with NASA to, among other things, manufacture and rapidly develop tailored solid rocket motors for orbital and suborbital launch stages, planetary and lunar sample return, and other Earth and in-space applications.

Rendering of the “Control Conex”, one of four containers in X-Bow Systems’ planned RFIB demonstration.

Rocket Factory in a Box demonstration. Rendering of the “Control Conex”, one of four containers in X-Bow Systems’ planned RFIB demonstration. Image courtesy of X-Bow Systems.

X-Bow’s additively manufactured solid propellant technology is what can quickly demonstrate and mature advanced solid propulsion manufacturing. Ideal for rapid prototyping and low-cost one-off demos, the startup’s uniquely optimizable motors cannot be manufactured via traditional methods. In the future, X-Bow expects to deliver end-to-end integrated launch capabilities; suborbital, orbital, and in-space applications; multiple booster configurations; and launch applications.

Commenting on the startup’s potential, Matt Bigge, Partner at Crosslink Capital, one of X-Bow’s key investors, said, “For too long, aerospace markets have lacked a 21st-century solution that utilizes cutting edge technological advances such as 3D printing, digital engineering techniques, and automation. X-Bow is well-positioned to fill the gap with disruptive technology that can shake up the emerging space economy.”

X-Bow was formed by space industry veterans. Hundley is an experienced space systems integrator, having worked at NASA’s Langley Research Center, Northrop Grumman, and private aerospace firm Zero Point Frontiers. Similarly, Mark Kaufmann comes from a long list of A-list aerospace firms, like Aerojet Rocketdyne and Pratt and Whitney, where he oversaw the space program.

Finally, Maureen Gannon has a fascinating history building companies and teams in the industry, with a curriculum that boasts her talents as co-founder and director of Virgin Galactic’s outreach initiative Galactic Unite and also co-founder of Firefly Space Systems (now Firefly Aerospace)––a space startup which has been heavily involved with 3D printing technologies. Much like we have covered many of these companies in the past, we can’t wait to highlight what some of the newcomers in the industry, like X-Bow, have to offer the ever-growing and evolving space industry.

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