NASA and Aerojet Rocketdyne have successfully tested a rocket motor part which was made using additive manufacturing. The 3D printed rocket injector assembly passed a series of hot-fire tests at the Rocket Combustion Laboratory at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland.
The part is used to deliver liquid oxygen and hydrogen gas to an engine’s combustion chamber and was made using Selective Laser Melting (SLM) where a high powered laser beam melts and fuses thin layers of metal powers into shape. The test part is smaller than would be used on a full-sized rocket but it was large enough to be tested to see whether it could withstand the heat and pressure seen in a real rocket engine.
“The injector is the heart of a rocket engine and represents a large portion of the resulting cost of these systems. Today, we have the results of a fully additive manufactured rocket injector with a demonstration in a relevant environment.” said Jeff Haynes, program manager, Additive Manufacturing, Aerojet Rocketdyne.
Nasa said the injector component would normally have taken a year to manufacture because of the high tolerances involved, but with the SLM process the manufacturing time was cut to less than four months. The injector assembly is one of the most expensive parts in a rocket engine and SLM reduced the manufacturing cost by more than 70%.
NASA has previously utilized 3D printing for less critical components and this test has shown that additive manufacturing can produce parts which are safe and reliable. The next steps in the project is to scale up the part to full-size and determine how to produce the part in a production environment.
NASA are also exploring other 3D printing technologies, including how to 3D print tools and equipment from the moon’s regolith so that astronauts have to take less equipment into space. They have also recently successfully tested a 3D printer in a zero gravity environment and intend to send that machine to the International Space Station in 2013.
“NASA recognizes that on Earth and potentially in space, additive manufacturing can be game-changing for new mission opportunities, significantly reducing production time and cost by ‘printing’ tools, engine parts or even entire spacecraft,” said Michael Gazarik, NASA’s associate administrator for space technology in Washington.