A startup shows off its fully 3D-printed rocket engine achieving full thrust

The rocket startup aims to build a low cost launch vehicle capable of sending 150 kg to orbit.
Chris Young
The E-2 engineLauncher

Private space firm Launcher demonstrated full thrust of its 3D-printed E-2 engine for the first time, a press release reveals.

Launcher is working on building its Launcher Light rocket, which will fly at a low cost to orbit and will allow for a quick turnaround of satellite missions, with payloads weighing up to 150 kg. 

The still-in-development launch vehicle will use 3D-printed E-2 engines, which were shown off in Launcher's latest video update (viewable below).

The full-scale thrust test shown in the video took place at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. It's one of the company's first big successful milestones toward sending its own rocket into orbit and joining the growing list of private rocket companies.

The E-2 engine demonstrated approximately 22,046 pounds of thrust (about 10 metric tons) using a mixture of LOX and Kerosene at 100 bars of combustion pressure. The engine ran for four 10-second stretches and was still in "perfect condition" afterwards, according to Launcher's statement.

3D printed space parts

Whereas traditional rocket engines are milled or cast, the E-2 engine's chamber is fully 3D-printed in copper alloy. Launcher uses an AMCM M4K printer to build its parts.

Though Launcher Light won't be reusable, the company hopes to build a reusable nine-engine version in the future with a reusable first stage. Launcher may be some way off launching its first payload into space, though it will send its Orbiter transfer vehicle to space as part of a rideshare on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket later this year.

3D printing technology is set to play a massive role in space. Companies such as SpaceX, Relativity Space, and Rocket Lab have already shown that rocket parts can be fully 3D printed and the technology could even be used off-planet to build launch pads and other components. Last year, Relativity Space announced the first fully reusable, fully 3D-printed rocket, though that launch vehicle is yet to hit the launchpad. 

SpaceX was the first company to launch fully operational reusable satellite launched vehicles, though its Falcon 9 rockets are only partially reusable — the first stage comes back to land upright on Earth while the second disintegrates on reentry. However, the company hopes to launch its fully reusable Starship as soon as May, with a view to eventually sending it to the Moon and Mars.

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