How additive manufacturing sets this Colorado company apart
Ursa Major Technologies builds and tests rocket engines at its 70,000-square-foot manufacturing facility on a 90-acre campus just east of Berthoud
Ursa Major Technologies | Berthoud | Product: Aerospace & Aircraft
Founder and CEO Joe Laurienti saw a need for an independent manufacturer of rocket engines while working as a propulsion engineer at Blue Origin and SpaceX in the early 2010s.
He cites “the confluence of a lot of timing” behind the company’s launch in 2015, with venture capital pouring into space startups as the federal government and companies like Google and Facebook doubling down on the sector catalyzing demand for better propulsion technology.
It all adds up to a big opportunity for a third-party supplier. “We can mass-produce at a lower price by building more engines,” Laurienti says.
Leveraging innovation in both design and manufacturing, the company uses additive manufacturing—3D printing—to make 80% of the mass of its reusable rocket engines. Additive manufacturing makes for benefits in design, prototyping and manufacturability, Laurienti says, and the final result can better withstand the extreme conditions of launch.
“We displace traditional manufacturing by putting 20 parts in a single part and 3D-printing it,” he says. “We want to be the technology company really pushing what is possible on the propulsion side.”
Now 120 employees, Ursa Major works with a number of service bureaus in Colorado and across the country to supplement the parts it prints in-house, then builds and tests rocket engines at its 70,000-square-foot manufacturing facility on a 90-acre campus just east of Berthoud. “Our engineering, our design, our assembly, and our testing all take place at one property,” Laurienti says. “That’s a huge advantage.”
The engine models are named after characters from science fiction. The first Hadley (from Ray Bradbury’s short story, “The Veldt”) engines have already shipped, and the Ripley (Sigourney Weaver’s role in the “Alien” movies) is coming soon. “We’ve got a few more coming,” he adds, laughing that the name of the third engine is “a hot topic of discussion” at the company.
Laurienti says his decision to base Ursa Major in Colorado has been a good one. “There’s a local talent pool that’s really strong,” Laurienti says. “It’s turned into a really big boon for recruiting.”
He points to another big benefit: accessibility. “When I was living in West Texas 120 miles from a grocery store and we were testing these rocket engines, it was a life-changing experience to see it once, and we were doing it every day,” Laurienti says. “All of these rocket-engine test facilities are these heritage, isolated, classified military facilities or they’re down in Mississippi in the bayou. I wanted to start a test facility where field trips could come and we could show kids and hopefully start a spark for more engineers in the future.”
He adds, “We’re really lucky that Colorado provides space to do that where it’s not 120 miles east of El Paso, it’s just outside of Denver.”
This article is part of the 2021 Made in Colorado feature. To learn more about the Colorado companies changing manufacturing in the state, click here.