Aerospace

First 3D printed rocket engine components delivered by Ursa Major

The copper-based, 3D printed rocket engine combustion chambers were delivered from The Ursa Major Advanced Manufacturing Lab in Youngstown, Ohio

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Ursa Major, America’s only privately funded company that focuses solely on rocket propulsion, has delivered its first copper-based, 3D printed rocket engine combustion chambers out of its additive manufacturing lab in Youngstown, Ohio – compressing the production and delivery cycle to one month, compared to a minimum of six months using traditional manufacturing processes. These advanced copper alloy-based engine components will be tested for space launch and hypersonic applications.

“Speed is of the essence when it comes to producing rocket engines right now because lack of propulsion is causing a significant bottleneck in U.S. access to space and hypersonics testing,” said Joe Laurienti, founder and CEO of Ursa Major. “The Ursa Major facility in Youngstown is playing a pivotal role in accelerating our customers’ time to market in both commercial and government sectors.”

The Ursa Major Advanced Manufacturing Lab began in October of 2021, with $3 million in federal financial support from U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan and the Department of Defense-backed manufacturing innovation institute, America Makes. The Lab’s charter is to develop and test additive manufacturing processes and materials for Ursa Major’s rocket engines, which are used for both space launch and hypersonic applications.

First 3D printed rocket engine components delivered by Ursa Major - from The Ursa Major Advanced Manufacturing Lab.
Ursa Major team members Thomas Pomorski (left) and Ty Barzak (right) handle 3D printed rocket engine components at the company’s Youngstown, Ohio advanced manufacturing facility. The copper alloy-based rocket engine parts will be used in space launch and hypersonics.

“Ursa Major’s goal to help establish the U.S. as a global supplier of rocket propulsion is in line with our efforts to foster domestic innovation and manufacturing across industries in Ohio,” said Rep. Tim Ryan. “I’m pleased that Youngstown is home to this state-of-the-art facility that will ultimately help the U.S. regain its leadership in space and hypersonic technologies.”

The Youngstown-based facility is equipped with an EOS large-format laser powder bed fusion 3D printer – designed to make on-demand components for Ursa Major rocket engines. It is located in the Youngstown Business Incubator, an internationally recognized program focused on the development of software and additive manufacturing companies in the region.

“This type of advanced additive manufacturing is a great example of the kind of American innovation that America Makes seeks to support,” said John Wilczynski, Executive Director of America Makes. “Successful projects like this are part of a resurgence in American manufacturing that helps strengthen our domestic supply chain.”

The existing supply chain for high-temperature metal alloy components is limited, and it can take months to turn around a needed revision. The Advanced Manufacturing Lab accelerates the engine development process, allowing Ursa Major to rapidly iterate on design adjustments in-house, to improve engine performance and reliability.

First 3D printed rocket engine components delivered by Ursa Major - from The Ursa Major Advanced Manufacturing Lab.
Ty Barzak (left) and Thomas Pomorski (right) remove a 3D printed copper rocket engine component from the EOS 3D printer at Ursa Major’s Advanced Manufacturing Lab in Youngstown, Ohio. Ursa Major will use these components for hotfire testing at its headquarters in Berthoud, Colorado.

The Advanced Manufacturing Lab was critical to rapidly redesigning Ursa Major’s “Ripley” – from a 35,000 to 50,000-pound thrust engine to meet market demand. The technical lessons learned from Ripley, and the methods and materials produced in this facility, are now contributing to the development and testing of their two other rocket engine programs – the “Hadley,” a 5,000-pound thrust, oxygen-rich staged combustion engine used in small launch and hypersonics, and the recently announced, 200,000-pound thrust “Arroway” designed for medium and heavy launch.

3D printing allows Ursa Major to speed up engine production and apply improvements gleaned from testing in real-time – resulting in lowered costs. Ursa Major’s rocket engines are more than 80 percent 3D printed by mass, and are primarily built and tested in its Berthoud, Colorado headquarters.

Ursa Major’s flexible rocket engines can be used for a range of missions, from air launch to hypersonic flight to on-orbit missions, with many restarts. The company’s customers get to launch many years faster, and without the development cost of building engines in-house. Ursa Major has built and tested more than 50 staged-combustion rocket engines to date, and plans to deliver 30 rocket engines to customers by year’s end. To date, Ursa Major’s engines have accumulated more than 36,000 seconds of run-time – far more than a typical engine is tested prior to the first flight.

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Edward Wakefield

Edward is a freelance writer and additive manufacturing enthusiast looking to make AM more accessible and understandable.

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