3D printed space planes with Hydrogen engine and no carbon emissions may soon take satellites to orbit

3D printed space planes with Hydrogen engine and no carbon emissions may soon take satellites to orbit

An Australian start-up is working on a novel space launch vehicle, most of which will be produced using a 3D printer, including its hydrogen engine. Here is a look at the future of space flight, as the start-up imagines it.

Delta Velos (Image: Hypersonix) Delta Velos (Image: Hypersonix)
Story highlights
  • Delta Velos will be the world's first spaceplane with a 3D printed scramjet engine.
  • It will appoint new alloys, thanks to advanced 3D printing technology.
  • The test spacecraft may mark its maiden flight in 2023.

Putting satellites into the Earth's orbit has conventionally been associated with large rockets that take off vertically from a launchpad. Hypersonix Launch Systems, an Australian aerospace engineering startup, is now trying to come up with a novel way to do so. Its solution? A faster than sound space plane that uses green fuel and is made of 3D printed materials.

Called Delta Velos, the space vehicle is being manufactured by the firm in Sydney, Australia in partnership with the University of Sydney. The one-of-a-kind plane is currently under production and testing at the engineering precinct of the University of Sydney's Darlington campus.

Once ready, it promises to solve two big issues with present-day spaceflight. One, it will cut down on the carbon emissions produced during the take-off of a rocket. Second, it will optimise the manufacturing process, using different materials on the periodic table as well as through new techniques for their use.

For this novel production, the start-up will be helped by the engineering team led by Professor Simon Ringer from the University of Sydney. The team will produce parts for the fuselage and the scramjet engine for Delta Valid using advanced 3D printers. These printers will appoint additive manufacturing technology, which will also allow the combination of different elements from the periodic table into new alloys.

'This is a totally new way of making metallurgical materials. It's different from a foundry, it's different from things that happen at a steel plant," Prof Ringer told AAP in an interaction.

"We can build shapes and designs in 3D that we could never make before. You can really let your imagination run riot", he added. The ability will let the team build and test new alloys that might have specific useful properties such as high-temperature strength, important for space flight.

Once ready, the hypersonic spacecraft will send small satellites into orbit using the world's first 3D printed scramjet engine. It is not the target at present, though. Before building the actual spaceplane, Hypersonix plans to test the scramjet engine in proof-of-concept vehicles.

For this, it will launch the prototype spaceplanes using a single hydrogen-powered engine, for a flight distance of 500 km. The real Delta Velos will use six of these green engines at the time of flight.

The use of a hydrogen engine for space flight will let Hypersonix write its name in history books, as such an engine would only give out water as a by-product at the time of combustion, and no carbon emissions whatsoever. The day it is made a reality will really be a game-changer for the aerospace industry.