X-Ray Inspection System for rocket engines

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An X-Ray Inspection System for rocket engines is set for further development following a European Space Agency contract award to Orbex and FORCE Technology.

Orbex Stage 2 rocket, called Prime (Photo courtesy of Orbex)

Orbex is developing low-cost orbital launch services for small satellites and has production facilities in the UK and design facilities in Denmark, where consultants FORCE Technology are headquartered.

The X-Ray Inspection System will enable the two firms to carry out non-destructive, high-energy X-ray inspections of Orbex’s large-scale 3D-printed rocket engines prior to flight and is expected to become a key component of the Orbex engine testing regime.

The X-Ray Inspection System has already been demonstrated for non-destructive inspection of European launch propulsion systems. The next phase of development will see the system extended to be used with very large structures, including Orbex’s 3D-printed rocket engine chambers.

X-Ray Inspection System
High-resolution inspection of the complex internal geometric features in AM components, used here to perform automated inspection of the integrated engine cooling channels for blockages and manufacturing defects (Image: Orbex)

According to Orbex, the technology is the engineering equivalent of a medical CT scanner, revealing the details of the interior of a test item without damaging it in the process.

“Orbex is set to be the first launch operator to be able to carry out high-energy X-ray inspection of rocket engines prior to flight, using the unique technologies and IP we are helping to develop as part of our work with the ESA,” Chris Larmour, CEO, Orbex said in a statement. “As we move towards series production we will use this new capability to give peace of mind to customers and assurance to licensing authorities that we have a fully comprehensive propulsion testing regime in place.”

Orbex is in the fifth year of its engine testing programme, which has generated significant amounts of data and engine testing intelligence. The company has also been manufacturing 3D printed rocket engines since 2018 with a custom-made 3D printer that has allowed it to produce the world's largest monobody rocket engines.

The Orbex Prime rocket is currently being tested on the Orbex LP1 launch platform at a facility in Kinloss, close to the company’s headquarters in Forres, Scotland, where full dry runs of launch procedures are taking place. Prime is a micro-launcher designed to transport small satellites weighing around 150kg to low Earth orbit. Orbex will commence launches from Space Hub Sutherland.