Draper Engine Hotfire is Ursa Major’s Latest Win for 3D Printed Rocket Motors


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Ursa Major, the Colorado-based specialist in rocket motors made with additive manufacturing (AM), has announced the successful hotfire test of the Draper, a liquid engine that the company claims has “the storability of a solid motor.” While this sort of victory has become fairly routine for Ursa Major, the company began developing the Draper in May 2023, meaning the engine achieved its first successful hotfire in less than twelve months — a far more rapid pace of development than is the industry norm.

The Draper’s non-cryogenic liquid fuels enable room-temperature storage “for years,” which Ursa Major notes makes the engine ideal for on-demand launches. Additionally, the Draper’s design allows it to maneuver in orbit, optimizing its potential for use in defensive hypersonic applications.

In a press release, Ursa Major CTO Brad Appel, said, “We’re excited with how quickly the development program has progressed and look forward to fielding the engine for hypersonics and in-space applications in the coming years.”

Dr. Shawn Phillips, chief of the Rocket Propulsion Division of the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) — which provided some of the funding for the Draper’s R&D — said, “Perhaps the most impressive aspect of this program is the delivery of a versatile, storable rocket engine in such an incredibly short timeframe. AFRL and industry is taking on the challenge our USAF and USSF leadership has asked of us…to deliver faster capabilities, craft tighter bonds with industry, and leverage what is already in existence to provide asymmetric advances. And thankfully, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what we are doing as One Team.”

As I wrote in a 3DPrintPRO article published earlier this year, Ursa Major isn’t just creating new ways to produce rocket engines, it is creating a model for how the Department of Defense as a whole can incorporate new types of companies leveraging new manufacturing techniques into US government supply chains. Ursa Major’s reputation should only continue to gain traction in the defense acquisition world thanks to a state-of-affairs highlighted in a recent Wall Street Journal article titled, “America Is Getting Ready for Space Warfare”.

At the same time, if the Pentagon — and the US government, generally — want to perpetuate the forward momentum reflected by Ursa Major, the US public sector needs to double down efforts like the AM Forward Small Business Investment Company announced in February. While Ursa Major is demonstrating increasingly impressive capabilities, the same can’t be said for many of the OEMs providing manufacturing hardware to Ursa Major and other contract manufacturers. Robust action on that front would not only allow Ursa Major to build on its foundation, but would also create the conditions necessary for the emergence of more Ursa Majors, in every strategic sector.

Images courtesy of Ursa Major

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