Aerospace & Defence

Orbex secures patent for 'petal fold' reusable rocket technology

2nd April 2024
Paige West

Orbex has secured patents for its REFLIGHT reusable rocket technology, with approvals spanning several European countries and the United States.

This technology is particularly advantageous for micro-launcher rockets such as Orbex's Prime rocket. It facilitates the recovery of the launch vehicle by adapting existing structural components, thereby adding minimal weight. As a result, it permits reusability with a negligible impact on overall performance and without contributing additional propulsion emissions into the upper atmosphere during re-entry, distinguishing it from other reusable launch systems that rely on powered descents to decelerate during re-entry and landing.

The Prime rocket, designed by Orbex, will feature a two-stage mechanism. The REFLIGHT system repurposes the interstage structure that lies between the two stages. Once Stage 1 separates from Stage 2, the interstage atop Stage 1 transforms into four 'petals' that unfold to create drag. This passive mechanism reorients and decelerates the descending spent rocket stage, facilitating a controlled return to Earth. This descent is further aided by a lightweight parachute, ensuring Stage 1 achieves a soft landing at sea.

Following recovery, Orbex plans to transport the retrieved Stage 1 back to its manufacturing facility in Forres for refurbishment or recycling. This process ensures no debris remains in orbit, on land, or in the sea, fostering a 'circular rocket economy'.

Jonas Bjarnø, CTO at Orbex, said: “At each step in the construction of Prime, we are looking at how to improve the launch system efficiency and sustainability. Our REFLIGHT technology is a critical innovation in overall efficiency of the system, and the slower return to Earth reduces risk of significant aerothermal damage, enabling refurbishment and re-use of parts. This is really critical to our vision for a more sustainable, circular rocket economy.”

This announcement follows closely on the heels of Orbex securing a patent for its coaxial tanking technology in over a dozen countries.

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