A startup named X-Bow Systems has received a $17.8 million contract from the US Air Force Research Laboratory to demonstrate additive manufacturing technologies for solid rocket propulsion.
The three-year contract, announced Sept. 26, is part of a $60 million agreement announced in April known as a strategic funding increase, or STRATFI. X-Bow’s contract includes $30 million in U.S. Air Force funding and $30 million in matching funds from private investors. AFRL’s $17.8 million contract covers a portion of the government’s share of the agreement. [$17.8 million out of $30 million is around 59% of it - SiG]
The AFRL has a program going called Rapid Energetics & Advanced Rocket Manufacturing (RE-ARM), intended to help reduce the cost and schedule to produce propellants for tactical rocket motors.
X-Bow CEO and founder Jason Hundley said the AFRL contract will help mature the company’s manufacturing technology and processes. The company has been working on solid rocket technology projects with AFRL at Edwards Air Force Base, California.
A solid propellant production line that traditionally would take anywhere from three to six years to stand up, “we’re looking to do that within 12 months” and at much lower cost, Hundley said.
Hundley went on to say that they've designed their process to work with any size Solid Rocket Motor from “... from the 2-inch diameter level into the 60-inch plus diameter level.” The company hopes to eventually compete for contracts against established solid rocket manufacturers like Northrop Grumman and Aerojet Rocketdyne, which was recently acquired by L3Harris.
April 2023 test of an X-Bow Systems additively manufactured solid propellant. The source article doesn't say how big that SRM is, but judging by the screws and other hardware visible on the test mount, it looks closer to 2" than 60". Image credit: X-Bow Systems
This looks like a fun project for the home experimenter. Print solid rocket motors out of some sort of liquid that hardens into the proper size and shape as it cures; perhaps print a ceramic nozzle on it. I'm pretty sure I can't be the only one around here who played with model rockets, over 50 years ago in my case. I'm thinking of the little solid-fuel rocket engines we used back then. I'm sure these need to be higher performance, which means they need to be in metal tubes rather than cardboard.