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Rocket Lab celebrates production of 100th 3D printed Rutherford engine

Rocket Lab, a small satellite launch company, has announced the successful completion of its 100th Rutherford engine, the world’s first 3D printed, electric turbo-pump-fed engine. The company is celebrating the milestone, emphasizing how far it has come since it first started developing the innovative 3D printed rocket engine in 2013.

Rocket Lab has had something of an impressive run with its Rutherford engine. Not only did the company start developing the 3D printed electric turbo-pump-fed engine in 2013, but it also completed its first test fire in the same year. Fast forward to today, and the company has manufactured 100 Rutherford engines, 70 of which have already been launched into space on Electron missions. (The most recent mission, called “Make it Rain,” launched on June 29 from the Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand.)

The Rutherford engine integrates a unique 3D printed design that was developed specifically for reliability and efficiency—both in terms of performance and production. Additive manufacturing has enabled Rocket Lab to quickly iterate the engine in high-volumes, two necessary elements for the company to produce the nine Rutherford engines needed for each Electron first-stage launch.

Rutherford Rocket Lab 100th engine

“The Rutherford engine has played an integral part in enabling Rocket Lab to make frequent and reliable launch a reality for small satellites,” said Peter Beck, CEO of Rocket Lab. “It’s a testament to our innovative design and manufacturing teams that we’ve achieved everything we set out to do in just a few short years; an entirely new type of rocket engine that delivers unmatched performance, boasts a proven record of 100% launch reliability and can be manufactured quickly and efficiently.”

Lachlan Matchett, Vice President of Propulsion at Rocket Lab, added: “Rutherford’s unique design certainly went against the grain of traditional rocket propulsion systems, so to make it to 100 flight-ready engines, more than 28,000 seconds of engine test run time and seven successful launches is a proud moment for the team.”

Matchett played a critical role in the development of the Rutherford engine, leading its program since the beginning. He also took on an integral role in the development of Curie, the 3D printed liquid propulsion system used in Electron’s Kick Stage, capable of 120N of thrust.

Rutherford Rocket Lab 100th engine
Test fire of the Rutherford engine

As well as marking its 100th Rutherford engine, Rocket Lab also recently expanded its propulsion manufacturing and test teams as well as its 3D printing facilities in Huntington Beach, California. This increased capacity will enable the company to ramp up production significantly, additively manufacturing 200 more Rutherford engines in just 12 months.

These upcoming engines are destined for Electron vehicles that will launch from Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand and Launch Complex 2 at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Wallops Island, Virginia.

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Tess Boissonneault

Tess Boissonneault moved from her home of Montreal, Canada to the Netherlands in 2014 to pursue a master’s degree in Media Studies at the University of Amsterdam. It was during her time in Amsterdam that she became acquainted with 3D printing technology and began writing for a local additive manufacturing news platform. Now based in France, Tess has over two and a half years experience writing, editing and publishing additive manufacturing content with a particular interest in women working within the industry. She is an avid follower of the ever-evolving AM industry.

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