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Orbex patents Reusable Rocket Technology dubbed 'Petal Fold'
Orbex patented 'petal fold' technology.
Orbex patents Reusable Rocket Technology dubbed 'Petal Fold'
by Sophie Jenkins
London, UK (SPX) Mar 27, 2024

Orbex has achieved a significant milestone in the advancement of space technology by securing a patent for its innovative REFLIGHT reusable rocket technology. The European Patent Office and the United States have both granted patents for this cutting-edge technology, marking a major leap forward in sustainable space exploration.

Designed specifically for micro-launcher rockets, such as Orbex's Prime rocket, the REFLIGHT technology repurposes existing structural components of the launch vehicle to facilitate its recovery, adding minimal additional weight. This design strategy enables the rocket to be reused with a minimal impact on its overall performance and without the need for additional rocket propulsion emissions during the re-entry phase. This is a stark contrast to other reusable launch systems, which rely on powered descent mechanisms to slow the vehicle during re-entry and landing.

The Prime rocket, a two-stage vehicle, incorporates the REFLIGHT system by transforming the interstage structure located between the stages into four 'petal' shaped parts. These petals unfold to create drag, passively reorienting and decelerating the spent rocket stage for a controlled descent back to Earth.

Aided by a lightweight parachute, the drag from the petals ensures a low-velocity, sea-based landing for Stage 1. Following recovery, Orbex plans to refurbish or recycle the returned stage at its Forres factory, eliminating any potential for debris in orbit, on land, or at sea, and fostering a 'circular rocket economy'.

Jonas Bjarno, CTO of Orbex, emphasized the technology's role in enhancing the launch system's efficiency and sustainability. He highlighted that the gentle return to Earth minimizes the risk of aerothermal damage, making it possible to refurbish and reuse parts, a crucial step towards realizing Orbex's vision of a sustainable, circular rocket economy.

This announcement comes on the heels of Orbex's recent patent award for its innovative coaxial tanking technology, reinforcing the company's commitment to pioneering sustainable solutions in the aerospace industry.

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