BLT’s 3D Printing Tech Fuels China’s Gravity-1 Rocket Launch

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As China continues to advance its position in the global space race, the successful deployment of the Gravity-1 rocket by Chinese startup Orienspace last January marks a significant milestone. Launched from a mobile sea platform in the Yellow Sea, this mission introduces the largest solid launch vehicle ever developed by a Chinese commercial company. With an impressive payload capacity, the Gravity-1 carried the Yunyao-1 satellites into orbit, which are set to improve global weather forecasting and potentially offer earthquake predictions.

In the inaugural mission of Orienspace, a company founded just four years ago in 2020, we are now learning that state-of-the-art 3D printing technology facilitated by Bright Laser Technologies, or BLT (SHA: 688333), was used to create crucial components of the launch vehicle.

Gravity-1 launch prep January 11, 2024. Image courtesy of Orienspace.

BLT’s manufacturing capabilities were put to the test with the production of over 30 main binding-related components for the Gravity-1. For this task, BLT leveraged its expertise in Laser Solid Forming (LSF) technology to meet the stringent demands of spaceflight. These components, essential for structural integrity, were made from TC11 titanium alloy, a high strength and resistance to corrosion material for high-temperature applications typical in aerospace and marine environments.

BLT’s LSF is a direct metal deposition technology that uses a high-powered laser beam to fuse metallic powders into solid parts. For the Gravity-1 rocket, the main binding-related components produced using LSF were critical for securing various sections of the rocket together. These parts included brackets, couplings, and other structural elements that guarantee the mechanical integrity of the rocket during the harsh conditions of launch and orbital operation. The choice of TC11 titanium alloy for these parts was strategic; its high strength-to-weight ratio is ideal for aerospace applications where reducing weight is crucial without compromising the structural strength.

Each component manufactured for the Gravity-1 had to meet strict aerospace standards. They needed a minimum tensile strength of 1060 megapascals and a yield strength of 885 megapascals. Tensile strength measures how much a material can be stretched before it breaks, while yield strength indicates the maximum load a material can bear without permanently deforming.

Gravity-1 launch on January 11, 2024. Image courtesy of BLT.

According to BLT, the accuracy of its LSF technology made it possible to hit these critical strength targets consistently, ensuring that every part produced has the same high quality. This uniformity is crucial for space missions, as the reliability of each component directly affects the overall safety and success of the mission.

For Gravity-1’s 3D printed components, using LSF was also ideal because the technology can create complex shapes that are often beyond what traditional manufacturing techniques can produce. Furthermore, LSF is more material-efficient than traditional subtractive methods, which typically waste large amounts of expensive materials by cutting them away. LSF adds material only where necessary, minimizing waste. Another significant advantage is the speed of this technology. LSF’s ability to rapidly produce parts on demand can significantly reduce production timelines, allowing quicker iterations and greater flexibility in design changes.

“We have come to understand that BLT possesses exceptional innovative capabilities, mature technology, and rich experience in the development and production of aerospace components. This is exactly what we need. In our numerous collaborations with BLT, we have fully experienced the high level of BLT’s services and the high quality of its products. We hope to have more in-depth cooperation with BLT in the future,” indicated Orienspace.

The Gravity-1. Image courtesy of Orienspace.

Gravity-1 is among the latest demonstrations of China’s growing capabilities in the aerospace sector. It boasts three stages and four boosters with a capacity to lift 6,500 kilograms to low Earth orbit (LEO). Its successful launch demonstrates Orienspace’s engineering capabilities. It highlights the potential of China’s commercial space sector, which has seen rapid development since the government opened the industry to private capital in 2014.

The launch of Gravity-1 is just the beginning for Orienspace. With plans for further launches and the development of more advanced rockets like the Gravity-2, which will feature a mix of solid and liquid fuels, Orienspace is aiding China’s ambitions for space exploration. This includes potential missions to a Chinese space station and contributions to lunar and deep space missions.

BLT’s role in the Gravity-1 project is just one example of the practical benefits of 3D printing in the aerospace industry. This technology is well-suited for creating larger, more complex components that perform multiple functions, becoming increasingly common in aerospace design. It allows for more intricate structures at reduced costs and faster production times. The future looks promising for companies like BLT, as their expertise in 3D printing is increasingly sought after in aerospace manufacturing, especially with components becoming more complex with new designs of the next generation of spacecraft and satellites.

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