Virgin Orbit uses high tech for low-cost rockets

Scott Macklin

Virgin Orbit’s Scott Macklin leads a tour of the company’s production facility in Long Beach, Calif. A full-size schematic of the LauncherOne rocket’s upper stage is painted on the floor. (GeekWire Photo / Chelsey Ballarte)

LONG BEACH, Calif. — Virgin Orbit aims to blaze a trail on the final frontier, but in order to do that, it has had to push into new frontiers on the factory floor.

Case in point: The Lasertec 4300 3D additive-subtractive hybrid machine that’s turning out rocket parts at Virgin Orbit’s 180,000-square-foot manufacturing facility here in Long Beach.

Like a 3-D printer, the room-sized machine builds up a component from the ground up, using laser light to fuse metal powder into each layer. But along each step of the way, the part is fine-tuned by shaving off the excess bits.

“It is literally the first of its kind in operation with a commercial company,” Andrew Duggleby, a manufacturing manager at Virgin Orbit, said as he worked on the combustion chamber for one of Virgin Orbit’s Newton rocket engines.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

About Alan Boyle

Award-winning science writer, creator of Cosmic Log, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.
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