Apr. 23, 2015 | By Alec

As you might know, 3D printing technology is heading towards a bright future in the aerospace industry. Various major players have already incorporated high quality 3D printers in their prototyping process, while the first space-bound 3D printed parts are already being created. Just this week, NASA unveiled a 3D printed engine part they actually intend to use. So while this seems like a field for big players only, a team of students from the UCSD in California are challenging the establishment with their plans for the Vulcan-I: a completely 3D printed rocket engine that they hope to launch over 10,000 feet over the summer.

This group of ambitious students have united in the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space team, and have already had quite a lot of success. They became the first team of undergraduate students in the world to successfully test a 3D-printed rocket engine in 2013 (their Tri-D, of which footage can be seen below), but that wasn’t enough. In a new bid to realize 3D printed rocket engines in space, they have just launched a Kickstarter campaign to finance the actual launch of their Vulcan-I. Testing itself has already been successfully done twice at Friends of Amateur Rocketry test facility in the Mojave Desert on earlier this month.

As SEDS@UCSD Vice President Alex Finch said on the UCSD website, this project is unlike any other 3D printed aerospace project as it is completely masterminded by students. ‘ We will be the first students to launch a rocket powered by a 3-D-printed engine, and we will be one of the first groups ever to do it. We are doing things that have not even been done widely in industry, as a completely student-led project, spending 20 to 30 hours a week on it per person,’ Finch said.

And 3D printing, he further explains, can play a key role in revolutionizing the aerospace industry and preparing it for long-term space exploration. ‘ It is clear that there is a vast opportunity to develop outer space for human use. The biggest inhibitor to this future is the lack of infrastructure currently in space,’ Finch says. ‘ It costs too much to get things into space. SEDS@UCSD is helping reduce the cost to access space by taking one of the most expensive and complex parts of a rocket — the engine — and 3-D printing it to significantly reduce the cost, time and weight of engines.’

The team further argues that 3D printing technology can make the launch of small satellites cost effective and generally increase the accessibility of space to mankind. Potential applications of their designs can therefore, they argue, be found in telecommunications, scientific exploration, national security, atmospheric studies and the commercialization of space.

As the team explains on Kickstarter, this new rocket is essentially a bigger, better and cleverer engine than its predecessor. The plan is to load it up into a rocket body and launch it to a record-breaking (for students) height of 10,000 ft. If the Kickstarter (which needs $15,000 in pledges to succeed) crowdfunding campaign is successful, the launch will take place at the Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition in Utah in June.

And by the looks of things, that campaign will be a big success. More than $10,000 has already been pledged in just two days, so the following 28 days should suffice. While they haven’t revealed what any additional funds will be used for, they have a series of other promising projects going that can surely benefit from funding. ‘ We have recently started a new project called MoonShot Alpha which is an interuniversity team to design, build and land a lunar lander on the moon,’ Daniel Charrier revealed. ‘We are also building a CubeSat [miniaturized satellite] that will serve as the lander’s communications array in lunar orbit.’ It looks like students are definitely the driving force behind the next generation of space exploration. 



Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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