Rocket Propulsion Company Ursa Major Extends 3D Printing Partnership with America Makes

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Denver-based Ursa Major, one of the US’s leading privately-funded rocket propulsion company, has extended its additive manufacturing (AM) partnership with America Makes, the Manufacturing USA institute based in Youngstown, OH. The Ursa Major-America Makes partnership began in 2021 with the establishment of the Ursa Major Advanced Manufacturing Lab — supported by $3 million in federal funding — located at the Youngstown Business Incubator (YBI).

Ursa Major’s new agreement with America Makes secures further funding from the Manufacturing USA institute, and extends the collaboration through mid-2024. In July, 2022, Ursa Major used the EOS M400 powder bed fusion (PBF) platform to print prototype thrust chambers for the company’s Hadley liquid rocket engine, made from the NASA-developed copper-chrome-niobium alloy, GRCop-42.

Thanks to the partnership’s extension, Ursa Major will be able to expand on that successful foundation by printing production parts as well as hardware for engine qualification. According to Ursa Major, 3D printing accounts for more than 80 percent of the mass of the company’s rocket engines.

In a press release about the extension of Ursa Major’s partnership with America Makes, Ursa Major’s CTO, Brad Appel, said, “Our Advanced Manufacturing Lab is critical to Ursa Major’s [AM] capabilities, which accelerate engine production timelines. With our resources in Youngstown, we can reduce the production and delivery cycle for combustion chambers from six months to one month.”

The Executive Director of America Makes, John Wilczynski, said, “Ursa Major has been a great addition to our Youngstown ecosystem. We are excited to continue our collaboration on improving producibility and lead time reduction of defense industrial base relevant parts.”

A collaboration like the one between Ursa Major and America Makes is especially crucial now that the Biden administration has issued its executive order on federally-funded R&D and domestic manufacturing. The executive order exists specifically to accelerate this sort of transition from prototyping to production, as well as to ultimately aid in the commercialization of IP that has been realized via federal spending.

Another major objective of the Biden administration’s latest policy — and indeed of the US federal government’s most recent advanced manufacturing efforts, more broadly — is to facilitate the sharing of relevant R&D gains across the federal ecosystem while still securing the commercial advantages for the companies involved. In this context, alongside its direct benefits to Ursa Major and America Makes, the partnership’s continued progress should also aid AM-driven progress in space hardware production, and the acceleration of new standards for US domestic manufacturing in general.

Beyond its explicit purpose of delivering end-use parts, manufacturing for space is increasingly critical precisely for that goal of spurring the development of commercial standards as quickly as possible. Space is one of the only domains left where pure research applications are singularly prioritized, and as even this sector has become rapidly privatized in recent years, public-private partnerships will become all the more significant to ensuring that the best data promptly reaches the broadest relevant audience. In many ways this will be a new way of doing business for the US, meaning that Ursa Major is simultaneously innovating on multiple different levels.

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