NASA engineers at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., recently finished testing a rocket engine injector made through additive manufacturing. They have also compared their performance to parts made the old-fashioned way with welds and multiple parts for the Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift rocket.
In little more than a month, Marshall engineers built two subscale injectors with a specialized 3D printing machine and completed 11 mainstage hot-fire tests, accumulating 46 seconds of total firing time at temperatures nearing 6,000 degrees Fahrenheit while burning liquid oxygen and gaseous hydrogen.
"We saw no difference in performance of the 3-D printed injectors compared to the traditionally manufactured injectors," said Sandra Elam Greene, the propulsion engineer who oversaw the tests and inspected the components afterward. "Two separate 3-D printed injectors operated beautifully during all hot-fire tests."
Traditional subscale rocket injectors for early SLS acoustic tests took six months to fabricate, had four parts, five welds and detailed machining and cost more than $10,000 each.
Marshall materials engineers built the same injector in one piece by sintering Inconel steel powder with a state-of-the-art 3-D printer. After minimal machining and inspection with computer scanning, it took just three weeks for the part to reach the test stand and cost less than $5,000 to manufacture.
Left: 3-D printed rocket injector as it looked immediately after it was removed from the selected laser melting printer. Right: Injector after inspection and polishing. Credit: NASA
"It took about 40 hours from start to finish to make each injector using a 3-D printing process called selective laser melting, and another couple of weeks to polish and inspect the parts," explained Ken Cooper, a Marshall materials engineer whose team made the part. "This allowed the propulsion engineers to take advantage of an existing SLS test series to examine how 3-D printed parts performed compared to traditional parts with a similar design."
View a video of the test firing:
"Rocket engines are complex, with hundreds of individual components that many suppliers typically build and assemble, so testing an engine component built with a new process helps verify that it might be an affordable way to make future rockets," said Chris Singer, director of the Marshall Center's Engineering Directorate. "The additive manufacturing process has the potential to reduce the time and cost associated with making complex parts by an order of magnitude."
Posted in 3D Printing Applications
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Ben wrote at 7/25/2013 6:04:21 PM:
Very very cool. Can you share the part file. ;P