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New Technology : 3D Printed Mini-Rockets for Nano-Satellites

The global space sector is currently struggling to meet the launch demands of nano-satellites for commercial use. In order to be able to transport them as quickly as possible into low Earth orbit, a young French company has decided to develop micro-launchers and 3D printed rocket engines.

Transporting up to 100 kg of nano-satellites at an altitude of 600 km using a small 17 m high launcher is the technological challenge launched by the young French company Venture Orbital Systems in 2019. The The company’s headquarters are in Poitiers and its assembly plants are located in the Reims region. The company’s goal is to meet the large production of orbital devices no bigger than a shoebox.

Currently, these microsatellites remain at the dock for months, before being able to board expensive charters, in gigantic launchers, completely unsuited to their sizes. With “rocket engines” entirely printed in 3D metal, the Zéphyr mini-launcher will, from 2024, reduce the costs and delays of transporting these nano-satellites to low Earth orbit, explains Stanislas Maximin, CEO and co-founder of Venture Orbital Systems.

A first sending into orbit “scheduled for the end of 2024”
“ To meet the growing demand for shipments of nano-satellites, we have developed the Zéphyr mini-launcher which is adapted to their small sizes ”, explains Stanislas Maximin. “With this rocket, we will be able to carry out more than 50 launches per year. Our mini-launchers are rockets that are both very simple and very complex. All launchers, small or large, consist mainly of what is called a rocket engine. This central part will make it possible to accelerate gases, in this case for the Zephyr, they come from the liquid oxygen and liquefied kerosene tanks as well. Gases that will pass through the engine at very high speeds and at very high temperatures in order to create the thrust allowing the rocket to pull itself out of the ground.

The configuration of a rocket is always the same, it can be summarized as follows: an engine surmounting two large tanks. But as you operate at quite extraordinary speeds and in extreme environments such as those of space, the machine is lined with electronics to avoid engine failures and ensure its automatic flight. This is where all the difficulty lies in designing an effective launcher . “Our technological developments have greatly reduced the complexity of a rocket engine, which usually consists of thousands of parts. We print it in 3D metal in only 3 components to assemble. This method allows us to considerably reduce the costs of its manufacture and therefore the launch times. The first orbital launch is scheduled for the end of 2024, but between now and then we will be carrying out a whole battery of tests and ground tests on the Zéphyr mini-launcher to validate all the components of the rocket,” says the CEO.

With the launch of thousands of nano-satellites for commercial use, companies will be able to access an abundance of data from space. These all-purpose mini-satellites will make it possible to create new Internet-type communication services, to design innovative applications for collecting and processing the information retrieved.

The mass production of mini-launchers adapted to nano-satellites will ensure the rapid deployment of orbital constellations of GPS systems, so that our smartphones take full advantage of flawless geolocation.

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