Dubai company develops 3D-printed rocket engine using advanced software

LEAP 71's designs will be used in an engine that will be test fired next year

A SpaceX rocket blasts off into space on October 5, 2022. Photo: EPA / Nasa
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A Dubai company is designing 3D-printed space rocket engines using an advanced computer software model that it developed.

LEAP 71, which opened its headquarters in the UAE this year, devised the Computational Engineering Model, a software that creates algorithms for the design and construction of spacecraft systems.

The company recently secured a partnership with Europe's The Exploration Company to develop propulsion system designs that TEC could use for its rocket.

The engine is expected to be test-fired sometime next year, said LEAP 71 founder Josefine Lissner.

“We have developed an algorithm that can generate rocket engines,” Ms Lissner told The National on Wednesday.

“It’s like a code library and you can tell it, for example, you need a rocket engine and how much thrust and propellant it needs to have.

“Within five to 10 minutes, it will generate an entire rocket engine.”

If the engine does work as planned, the work at LEAP 71 could help revolutionise the way spacecraft systems are developed, including helping to reduce costs and speed up the construction of those technologies.

The contract with TEC is a big win for LEAP 71 as it looks to secure more clients in the space industry.

TEC is developing and manufacturing a reusable space capsule called Nyx.

Last week, it secured a contract with Axiom Space to develop cargo transportation services for a commercial space station that it is building.

Helene Huby, co-founder and chief executive of TEC, said using computer models like those developed by LEAP 71 could help build engines faster.

“One of the challenges for reducing the cost of space exploration is the conventional approach to engineering,” she said.

“Complex parts like rocket engines are hard to design, and each iteration can sometimes take a significant amount of manual rework with traditional CAD-based [computer-aided] tools.

“Using computational models, we want to engineer faster so that we can print and test faster – hence accelerating the improvement and validation of our engines.”

LEAP 71's new set-up in Dubai also helps align with the UAE's goal of making the country the regional hub of spacecraft system development.

The Emirates has placed a strong focus on attracting space companies to set up operations here, so a private space industry can be developed.

Sarah Al Amiri, Minister of State for Advanced Technology and chairwoman of the UAE Space Agency, said in a previous interview with The National that the space industry would play a role in Operation 300bn, a strategy to position the country as a global industrial hub by 2031.

“As we move forward with Operation 300bn, it's very evident that we need to have a private sector and, therefore, an industry in space,” she said.

“Most of the current space sector within the Emirates is focused on government spending and programmes across both local and federal governments.

“Today, we're talking about a space sector that has an indirect impact to the economy. In five years, we want to see a space sector that has both an indirect impact on the economy, society, and also a direct impact on the economy.”

Once the industry starts to grow, it would mean access to locally manufactured space technologies.

Updated: September 14, 2023, 3:23 AM