Aug. 31, 2014

NASA said this week that it has successfully tested the most complex rocket engine parts ever designed by the agency and printed with 3D printing, on a test stand at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. The part is a rocket engine injector, a highly complex part that sends propellant into the engine.

The 3D printing process allowed rocket designers to create an injector with 40 individual spray nozzles, all printed as a single component rather than manufactured individually. Making the injector with traditional manufacturing methods would mean 163 individual parts need to be made and then assembled. But with 3D printing technology, only two parts were required.

NASA tested two 3D printed rocket injectors for five seconds each, producing 20,000 pounds of thrust. The two rocket injectors were manufactured by two separate companies -- Solid Concepts in Valencia, California, and Directed Manufacturing in Austin, Texas. Each company printed one injector. Designers also created complex geometric flow patterns that allowed oxygen and hydrogen to swirl together before combusting at 1,400 pounds per square inch and temperatures up to 6,000 degrees Fahrenheit (3,316 Celsius).

"We wanted to go a step beyond just testing an injector and demonstrate how 3D printing could revolutionize rocket designs for increased system performance," Chris Singer, director of Marshall's Engineering Directorate, said in a statement. "The parts performed exceptionally well during the tests."

Additive manufacturing not only helped engineers build and test a rocket injector with a unique design, but it also enabled them to save time and money. The in-house 3D printers allows designers to produce parts quickly and apply quick modifications to the test stand or the rocket component.

"Having an in-house additive manufacturing capability allows us to look at test data, modify parts or the test stand based on the data, implement changes quickly and get back to testing," said Nicholas Case, a propulsion engineer leading the testing. "This speeds up the whole design, development and testing process and allows us to try innovative designs with less risk and cost to projects."

NASA's goal is to reduce the manufacturing complexity and the time and cost of building and assembling future engines. "Additive manufacturing is a key technology for enhancing rocket designs and enabling missions into deep space." states NASA.


Posted in 3D Printing Applications

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