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What the Pentagon’s Interest in Ursa Major Says about 3D Printing as an Industry

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In the last couple of weeks, mainstream media attention has put a spotlight on Ursa Major Technologies, a Denver-based company dedicated exclusively to developing and producing rocket motors built with additive manufacturing (AM). On February 20, Reuters published an article titled, “Surging rocket motor demand drives Pentagon to buy from tiny Ursa Major”, and the title of an article in The Wall Street Journal from February 28, profiling startups including Ursa Major, declared, “Silicon Valley’s Next Mission: Help the U.S. Catch China and Russia in Hypersonic Weapons.”

These developments have been on my radar for at least a couple of months, thanks partially to a November 2023 interview I did with Nick Doucette, Ursa Major’s Chief Operating Officer (COO), which brought the company’s work on solid rocket motors (SRMs) to my attention. Moreover, in December 2023, an article in C4ISRNET by reporter Courtney Albon relayed comments by Department of Defense (DoD) Undersecretary of Research and Development Heidi Shyu, made at the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, California.

Ursa Major designed, developed, and tested a 6” diameter composite grain pathfinder motor in 37 days. Image courtesy of Ursa Major

In Albon’s words, the Rapid Defense Experimentation Initiative (RDER) “takes prototypes offered from the military services and combatant commands, verifies their production readiness and operational utility and pushes the most promising ones to production.” According to the C4ISRNET reporter, Undersecretary Shyu, speaking about the [RDER], noted that she had recently approved the first round of three projects during a classified meeting: “…Shyu declined to provide details on the projects that moved forward, but the first round of capabilities focused on long-rang fire needs in US Indo-Pacific Command.”

3D Printed Rocket Motors Aren’t Just Rocket Motors

Mainly because of the adjacency between the timing of Ursa Major’s announcement and Shyu’s comments, it occurred to me that the rocket motor manufacturer’s SRMs could be one of the RDER projects the Undersecretary had been alluding to. PRO logo

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