AM for SpaceSustainability

Scotland-based Skyrora tests 3D printed rocket engine and eco-fuel

Skyrora Ltd, an Edinburgh-based space company, has successfully tested a 3D printed rocket engine powered by an ecological liquid fuel made of plastic waste. The ground tests, which were carried out in Fife, Scotland, mark an exciting breakthrough in the space launch segment and could pave the way to a more sustainable industry.

Over the course of last week, Skyrora evaluated the innovative fuel, called Ecosene, using its 3D printed 3.5kN LEO engine. After conducting static horizontal firings using both the Ecosene fuel and standard kerosene fuel, the Scottish company reported promising results for its eco-friendly alternative.

Skyrora 3D printed engine eco fuel
Test firing the Ecosene fuel and 3.5kN LEO engine

Scottish company Ecosene has developed a technology capable of transforming plastic waste—which would otherwise end up in a landfill—into fuel. The novel process is reportedly capable of turning 1,000 kg of plastic waste into 600 kg of kerosene fuel in just 24 hours. Understandably, the prospect has grabbed the interest of the space industry.

According to the Scottish company, Ecosene emits about 45% less greenhouse gas compared to traditional kerosene and is more adaptable to changes in weather. That is, because the fuel does not need to be cryogenically frozen and can sit in a tank for a substantial period of time, launch schedules can be more flexible depending on the weather.

As mentioned, the eco fuel was tested with Skyrora’s 3.5kN LEO engine, a 3D printed system with internal cooling channels designed to power the final upper stage of its 22-meter-tall XL rocket. The 3D printed engine can also be used as an orbital maneuvering unit thanks to a hydrogen peroxide system that allows it to restart in orbit.

“These tests have been a crucial way for us to demonstrate the real scientific credentials underpinning our work,” said Volodymyr Levykin, CEO of Skyrora. “I must thank our team for their hard work in getting us to this stage and ensuring the tests are delivering exactly what we set out to do. In particular, the final day of testing on the Friday was a big day for us in learning more about the nuances of Ecosene – crucial for unlocking the transformative potential it holds for us and the entire space sector.”

Skyrora is hopeful that its 3D printed rocket engine and Ecosene fuel will help it achieve its goal of becoming the first UK-based firm to launch a rocket into space from Scotland. The company is aiming to launch its first Skyrora XL vehicle by 2022.

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Tess Boissonneault

Tess Boissonneault is a Montreal-based content writer and editor with five years of experience covering the additive manufacturing world. She has a particular interest in amplifying the voices of women working within the industry and is an avid follower of the ever-evolving AM sector. Tess holds a master's degree in Media Studies from the University of Amsterdam.

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