Rocket maker secures international patent for new reusable technology

Orbex patented ‘petal fold’ technology

ORBEX, the only UK-owned orbital launch services and rocket manufacturing company, has successfully patented its REFLIGHT reusable rocket technology following patent approval in several European markets as well as the United States. This protection was based on the patent grant by the European Patent Office.

The technology is uniquely suited to micro-launcher rockets like Orbex’s Prime rocket since it enables recovery of the launch vehicle by repurposing existing structural features, while adding very little additional weight to the vehicle. It thereby enables reusability with very limited overall performance penalty and no additional rocket propulsion emissions in the upper atmosphere during re-entry. This should be compared to other reusable launch systems using powered descent (rocket engine firings) to slow down the vehicle during re-entry and landing.

Orbex’s Prime rocket will consist of two stages, and the REFLIGHT system repurposes the interstage structure located between the stages. After Stage 1 detaches from Stage 2, the interstage on top of Stage 1 reconfigures into four ‘petals’ which fold out and create drag forces that passively reorients and slows the spent rocket stage’s descent to Earth. 

In combination with a lightweight parachute, the drag created by the petals will enable Stage 1’s to perform a low-velocity landing at sea. 

Orbex will then recover the floating Stage 1 and return it to its factory in Forres for refurbishment and/or recycling. During descent and recovery, there will be no debris left in orbit, on land or in sea, creating 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.” 

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