Aerospace AMDefenseIndustrial Additive Manufacturing

Pentagon to buy 3D printed rocket motors from Ursa Major

Facing surging demand to supply the war efforts in Ukraine and Israel

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According to a story from the news agency Reuters, the Pentagon is close to giving a contract for new 3D printed rocket motors* to the privately held startup Ursa Major. Reuters cites two sources familiar with the situation saying that the Pentagon is desperate to address surging demand for solid-fuel motors.

While rocket motors themselves are relatively inexpensive, they play a vital role in propelling billions of dollars of missiles and rockets on order to supply the war efforts in Ukraine and Israel, and to re-stock dwindling U.S. inventories.

The contract – expected to be small and to fall under the Pentagon’s development programs – would be a big vote of confidence in the upstart defense contractor as officials seek more suppliers beyond the two dominant rocket engine makers – Northrop Grumman NOC.N and L3 Harris Technologies LHX.N. There are other recent entrants including X-Bow Systems.

It also shows the Defense Department’s growing appetite for risk to resolve what officials called a “major crisis.”

“As soon as I get the FY (fiscal year) ’24 budget I am going to drop it on a small company that is going to do additive manufacturing of a solid rocket motor,” Heidi Shyu, undersecretary of Defense for research and Engineering, told Congress last week.

Shyu did not name of the company or give the size of the contract during her testimony, but did say the company had been working closely with the Navy, adding, “we can’t wait to get them on contract.”

Some media sources have interpreted this to mean that the contract will be worth several billions but that is unlikely.

A congressional aide and an industry executive who spoke on condition of anonymity said Shyu was referring to Ursa Major, a privately held company that uses 3D printing to make rocket motors.

According to Reuters, a representative of Ursa Major declined to comment. The Pentagon declined further comment on the possible award.

Pentagon to buy 3D printed rocket engines from Ursa Major facing surging demand to supply the war efforts in Ukraine and Israel

Ursa Major is headquartered in Berthoud, Colorado. VoxelMatters has been following its progress, using 3D printing to build solid rocket engines and rocket motors for several years.

Last November Ursa Major closed $138 million in its Series D and D-1 funding rounds to produce and scale its propulsion systems. The investments were led by Explorer 1 Fund and Eclipse, and include RTX Ventures, funds and accounts managed by BlackRock, Exor Ventures, Mack & Co., LLC, XN, and other institutional shareholders.

This investment enabled Ursa Major to continue to develop Lynx, the company’s innovative new solid rocket motor (SRM) program, while scaling production capacity and advancing multiple propulsion programs. While the initial Series D round was completed earlier in 2023, Ursa Major extended fundraising to include a Series D-1 round due to strong interest in accelerating the development of several future programs.

In May the company closed a contract with the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) to advance U.S. hypersonics defense programs and space launch capabilities. Under the contract, Ursa Major will build and test a prototype of its new Draper engine for hypersonics, and further develop its 200,000-pound thrust Arroway engine for space launch.

Ursa Major’s existing motors can already be used in any small-diameter weapon like the new Boeing BA.N and SAAB SAABb.ST product the Ground Launched Small Diameter Bomb (GLSDB), RTX’s SM-6 rockets and Lockheed Martin’s LMT.N Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS) which are used heavily in Ukraine.

Lockheed Martin was making about 4,600 GMLRS per year but has ramped production since 2022. More than 5,000 have been sent to Ukraine so far, according to a Reuters analysis. GMLRS production is scheduled to ramp from 10,000 deliveries in 2024 to 14,000 deliveries in 2025 as demand surges.

President Joe Biden’s 2024 budget request was the first to procure missiles and other munitions with multi-year contracts, something that is routine for planes and ships, as the Pentagon signals enduring demand to top munitions makers.

That 2024 budget, which is still not through Congress, earmarked $11 billion to “deliver a mix of highly lethal precision weapons” which included hypersonic prototyping and the multiyear procurements of Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASM), and Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM), and Standard Missile 6 (SM-6).

Ursa Major has raised $274 million from investors and has a valuation of $750 million according to PitchBook data.

*This article has been modified from the original version to reflect the difference between a rocket motor and a rocket engine. Ursa Major is printing Solid Rocket Motors for the DoD. Rocket motors use solid propellants (like the big solids on the space shuttle system). Rocket engines use liquid or gas propellants (like the 3 engines at the base of the space shuttle). In addition, the term “solid rocket motor” is redundant since “rocket motor” means a solid rocket.

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Davide Sher

Since 2002, Davide has built up extensive experience as a technology journalist, market analyst and consultant for the additive manufacturing industry. Born in Milan, Italy, he spent 12 years in the United States, where he completed his studies at SUNY USB. As a journalist covering the tech and videogame industry for over 10 years, he began covering the AM industry in 2013, first as an international journalist and subsequently as a market analyst, focusing on the additive manufacturing industry and relative vertical markets. In 2016 he co-founded London-based VoxelMatters. Today the company publishes the leading news and insights websites VoxelMatters.com and Replicatore.it, as well as VoxelMatters Directory, the largest global directory of companies in the additive manufacturing industry.

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