Satellite microlauncher to use 3D-printed combustion chamber


Artist’s impression of the Bloostar microlauncher

The development of a microlauncher system for small satellites is progressing as a Spanish research center announced it had successfully 3D printed the first combustion chamber for its booster engine.

The Advanced Center for Aerospace Technology (FADA-CATEC) in Seville, Spain, is supporting the development of Zero 2 Infinity’s (Z2I) Bloostar microlauncher by making parts of its rocket engine using 3D printing techniques. The parts will optimize the cooling of the thrust chamber by printing structures that cannot be manufactured by other means.

Jose Mariano Lopez-Urdiales, CEO of Zero 2 Infinity, said, “Traditional rockets have had straight cooling channels because that’s all that could be manufactured. When you put a flashlight in your ear, you see a wonderful tree-like structure of blood vessels. We don’t have straight rows of blood vessels in our ears. 3D printing and AI now allow rockets to evolve, like nature.”

Spanish company Zero 2 Infinity’s (Z2I) Bloostar is a microlauncher that will be carried by a near-space balloon to an altitude of more than 20km, where it will separate from the balloon and blast off to orbital speeds. The three-stage vehicle uses liquid methane and oxygen in pressure-fed engines.

Microlaunchers typically carry small satellites for Earth observation, technology demonstrations, education and telecoms into low orbits and are launched from the ground or from an aerial platform.

A microlauncher is used above the main mass of the Earth’s atmosphere to give the launch several advantages compared to ground- or aircraft-based launchers. The almost complete lack of aerodynamic resistance means there is lower drag and fewer gravity losses; the nozzles of the rocket used perform better in the near vacuum; and vibrations can be reduced by up to a factor of 10, meaning significant reductions in mass can be achieved.

Bloostar’s engine has been named Teide after Spain’s highest mountain.

In February the European Space Agency (ESA) contracted German space technology company MT Aerospace to conduct a feasibility study of the Bloostar microlauncher. Jerome Breteau, manager of ESA’s Future Launchers Preparatory Programme, under which the study has been awarded, said, “A European commercial microlauncher can meet the growing need for dedicated launch services to companies with small satellites.”

Z2I has also recently announced a partnership with engineering consultancy Indra to develop technologies for space transportation systems. The company is also partnering with French firm Dassault Systèmes to apply the company’s 3DExperience simulation software in Bloostar’s development.

Z2I is based in Barcelona and has subsidiaries in Germany and the USA. The company is also working on a pod, called Bloon, which will carry people to Near Space for scientific activities and tourism.

March 26, 2018

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Ben has worked as a journalist and editor, covering technology, engineering and industry for the last 20 years. Initially writing about subjects from nuclear submarines to autonomous cars to future design and manufacturing technologies, he was editor of a leading UK-based engineering magazine before becoming editor of Aerospace Testing in 2017.

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