Ursa Major, the Colorado-based manufacturer of rocket engines produced with additive manufacturing (AM), has unveiled Lynx, the company’s first design and production process for solid rocket motors (SRMs). Given that, in recent history, missile inventories have come to represent the primary application space for SRMs, Lynx is of the utmost relevance to the Department of Defense’s (DoD’s) AM objectives.
Ursa Major has deep experience working with DoD, and, in 2023, won multiple contracts from the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) to build and test liquid propellant engines for the US hypersonic program. In August, the company also extended its partnership with Manufacturing Innovation Institute (MII) America Makes — originally begun in 2021 with the establishment of the Ursa Major Advanced Manufacturing Lab — through mid-2024.
Now, Ursa Major will bring the expertise and innovation it has spent years cultivating and demonstrating in the liquid engine space to the market for SRMs. The company’s chief operating officer (COO), Nick Doucette, who once ran AM operations for SpaceX, explained to 3DPrint.com the significance of this development for both rocket manufacturing as well as the AM sector. The key to understanding both is modularity.
Smaller models could be especially important for SRMs, specifically, insofar as the missiles they’re most typically used in, such as Javelins and Stingers, are man-portable. This means that they’re designed to be carried by one person over long distances. Currently, one of the biggest obstacles for output of those weapons, which is causing ever-longer lead times for the US defense industrial base (DIB), is the fact that production lines for Stingers only make parts for Stingers, and those for Javelins only make parts for Javelins, etc. However, the modularity of Lynx, only possible thanks to AM, is meant to change precisely that.
To be sure, Doucette is only able to make things sound this straightforward because he and everyone else at Ursa Major have spent around a decade conceptualizing, developing, and refining the underlying techniques involved. Nonetheless, the COO said that Ursa Major originally turned to AM for three fairly simple reasons:
The increasing ability of AM to successfully execute in new ways on those age-old objectives of all manufacturing operations has caused the DoD, among others, to start taking the technology very seriously in 2023. According to the new report from Additive Manufacturing Research, Additive Manufacturing for Military and Defense, the DoD will spend an estimated $300 million on 3D printers in 2023. Along these lines, it is becoming more and more evident to those at the intersection of defense and advanced manufacturing that a nation’s AM capabilities are rightly viewed as a form of deterrence: the more missiles the US proves it can make, the less leverage its strategic competitors have in flexing the same muscles.
At the same time, Doucette concluded the interview by pointing out that there’s still much work to be done, when it comes to raising awareness about the connection between manufacturing capacity and national security.
Images courtesy of Ursa Major
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