The specifications of SpaceTai’s Flying launch vehicle. Image via SpaceTai.
Cutting production costs
Established in March 2021, SpaceTai is a newcomer to the space industry with sizeable intentions. The firm aims to bring rocket production costs down to below one-fifth of the current average by means of its own 3D printers specifically developed for fabricating rocket parts.
The company says it is able to manufacture 90 percent of the parts used in its rockets via 3D printing, which will cut production costs significantly.
The firm is developing a 3D printed rocket engine called “xiaoyi”, or “small ant”, which uses liquid oxygen and kerosene fuel as propellants. SpaceTai says xiaoyi’s performance is superior to the gas generator cycle technology currently used within commercial space engine manufacturing.
Two models of the xiaoyi are being developed, and will reportedly have thrusts of 20 and 30 tons at sea level. The engines can be manufactured on SpaceTai’s own metal 3D printer in just 30 days, the company claims, and it is also working on a next-generation engine called “juyi”, or “huge ant”. Once complete, the juyi could boast thrusts of up to 200 tons at sea level.
The engines will power SpaceTai’s recyclable Flying and Flying H launch vehicles, which will both be 90 percent produced via 3D printing. At 50 meters long, the Flying rocket will be capable of carrying a nine-ton payload into Low Earth Orbit (LEO), while the Flying H, also spanning 50 meters, will carry 25 tons into LEO.
SpaceTai is developing an additional specialist 3D printer geared to the manufacture of rocket fuselages, which it aims to 3D print over the course of three months. This manufacturing line is currently under construction at the firm’s Shanghai plant.
In addition to developing its rocket-building 3D printers and subsequent components, SpaceTai is also building an online inventory of metal 3D printing services which it hopes other industries will make use of. To reach its rocket production goals, the company estimates it will require in the region of $94.6 million investment for R&D purposes and for the construction of its plants.
Looking ahead, SpaceTai aims to complete a suborbital test flight of its 3D printed rocket in 2023, and in 2024 hopes to send its rocket into orbit. The firm expects to begin making sales of its 3D printed rockets and metal 3D printing services from next year.