AMS Spring 2023

UK’s Largest Rocket Engine Factory Opens with World’s Largest Hybrid Metal 3D Printer

Inkbit

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Skyrora Ltd’s new manufacturing headquarters has just opened, officially making the Scottish company the operator of the UK’s largest jet engine factory. Skyrora is already the owner of the largest hybrid metal 3D printer in Europe.

Based in Edinburgh, Skyrora’s new production facility, called the Skyrora Vehicle Assembly Building, is located in North Lanarkshire (suburban Glasgow). The building itself contains a total of 55,000 square feet of factory floor and office space, with an adjoining 67,000 square foot yard, used for launch rehearsals. According to Skyrora, this makes the facility capable of producing as many as 16 of its XL launch vehicles annually. The XL is Skyrora’s latest prototype, one version of which has already been tested successfully.

In a press release, Skyrora’s CEO and founder, Volodymyr Levykin, commented, “This isn’t just about offering different locations for launch, but everything that precedes that moment. Being able to offer end-to-end domestic capabilities from development, manufacturing, testing, and launch provides the UK with a crucial advantage as it looks to unlock its capabilities and deliver on its potential on the global stage.” Ian Arnett, the UK Space Agency’s deputy chief executive, said, “As we approach the UK’s first commercial space launch this summer, Skyrora’s new manufacturing and production facility in Cumbernauld will further enhance the UK’s reputation as Europe’s most attractive destination for launch activities.”

Arnett also pointed out that one-fifth of the UK’s space workers are in Scotland, which is notable considering the country contains only one-twelfth of the UK’s total population. Skyrora is expected to conduct the first launch in the history of the new SaxaVord Spaceport some time later this year. The spaceport is located in Unst, the most northerly part of the Shetland Islands, themselves the most northerly part of the UK. The territory’s strategic location likely does much to explain the UK’s apparent emergence as a new hub for commercial space.

The Skyprint 2, the aforementioned “largest hybrid metal 3D printer in Europe”, is a DED machine capable of producing parts via both additive and subtractive processes. This allows operators to use the Skyprint 2 to repair parts that weren’t originally printed. The machine is responsible for producing components for the XL’s 70kN engine, which is the most powerful commercially-produced liquid engine on the UK market.

Although much attention is rightfully paid to the use of AM in the American and Chinese space sectors, it is also striking the extent to which the latest phase in the European Space Agency’s evolution has been dependent on AM. The progress being made in the UK, in particular, suggests the trajectory and makeup of new global supply chains to be formed over the next decade. In an interesting mashup of the past and the future, critical emerging technologies (CETs) could once again make the northern transatlantic the central node in international trade.

Images courtesy of Skyrora

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