US Navy Awards Contract to Ursa Major for 3D Printed Solid Rocket Motors

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The Naval Energetics Systems and Technologies (NEST) Program has awarded a contract to Ursa Major to develop and test a solid rocket motor (SRM) prototype for the US Navy’s Standard Missile (SM) Program. Through the contract, Ursa Major, a Denver-based company that uses additive manufacturing (AM) to enable design and production of modular rocket engines, will bring its Lynx manufacturing process to bear on the Navy’s Mk 104 dual-thrust SRM.

The Navy’s SM arsenal relies on the Mk 104, which is currently among a variety of different SRMs whose short supply is largely responsible for holding back US missile production. In a February 2024 article titled “Supplier bottlenecks threaten US Navy effort to grow arms stockpiles,” Defense News’ Megan Eckstein wrote that, “Navy officials and industry executives say they’re addressing specific bottlenecks in the supply chain, in some cases pursuing a second vendor or spending more government funds to modernize production facilities.”

Eckstein also referenced a December 2023 interview in which Rear Adm. Seiko Okano said “the bottleneck is rocket motors.” In addition, Okano noted that the Navy had already issued “a handful” of other transaction agreement [OTA] contracts to small businesses for the Mk 72 booster and the Mk 104. In March 2024, including the contract to Ursa Major, the NEST handed out at least five contracts to both small enterprises as well as primes for the Mk 72 and Mk 104 programs.

Image courtesy of NEST.

In a press release about Ursa Major’s US Navy contract, the founder and CEO of Ursa Major, Joe Laurienti, said, “We are proud of the Navy’s support and recognition of Ursa Major as a trusted partner to develop the next generation of Mk 104 solid rocket motors. Our new approach to manufacturing SRMs allows Ursa Major to quickly develop high-performing motors at scale, driving volume and cost efficiencies to address this critical national need.”

Captain Thomas Seigenthaler, the director of Program Executive Office Integrated Warfare Systems (PEO IWS) 3.0, said, “PEO IWS is excited to work with Ursa Major on this effort to bolster a critical component of the Nation’s industrial base. The production of [SRMs] is a top priority, and we are impressed with Ursa Major’s innovative approach to address manufacturing challenges.”

Additively manufactured small motor cases and components for tactical missile applications. Image courtesy of Ursa Major

As I explained in an article last month, the Pentagon’s interest in Ursa Major is just as much about its newcomer status and achievement of a flexible production model that works, as it is about rocket motors, in particular. For the DoD, rocket motors may be the most urgent component in short supply right now, but the organization’s main takeaway from the last several years is that such shortages have become the new normal.

For that to change, the US needs as many companies like Ursa Major as possible. As beneficial as AM has been for Ursa Major, Ursa Major is even more beneficial to the US AM industry. It’s a good thing for the US to have as many OEMs making printers as it does. In AM’s next era, the primary focus needs to be building up the number of contract manufacturers proficient in AM.

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