Dec 2, 2015 | By Kira

As we wrote just last week when Aerojet Rocketdyne signed a $1.6 billion contract with NASA to 3D print components for the RS-25 rocket engine, 3D printing is definitely taking off in the aerospace industry. Today, that news is further reinforced, as Aerojet, the rocket and missile propulsion manufacturer and industry leader in additive manufacturing, has announced the successful completion of twelve 3D printed nozzle extensions for use aboard NASA’s Orion, a spacecraft that will eventually facilitate the human exploration of asteroids and even Mars.

Depiction of NASA's Orion Spacecraft

The nozzle extensions, which were produced on a single additive manufacturing machine in just three weeks' time, represent the first 3D printed parts for the Orion, and will be used as part of Orion’s crew module reaction control system, currently being build by Aerojet for Lockheed Martin and NASA.

This reaction control system is no trivial thing; it is absolutely critical to crew safety. It gives the crew the ability to control its course after it has separated from the service module, and during Orion’s reentry into Earth’s atmosphere, ensures that the heat shield is properly oriented, the crew is stable under the parachutes, and that the vehicle is in the correct orientation for splashdown. For these reasons, Aerojet knows that the manufacturing of every single component, including the 3D printed nozzle extensions, must be performance-driven and absolutely flawless.

Orion crew module under construction

"These components are the first additively manufactured parts we have provided for the Orion spacecraft," said Julie Van Kleeck, vice president of Advanced Space & Launch Programs at Aerojet Rocketdyne. "The reaction control system on the Orion crew module is critical for astronaut crew safety, which is why we have invested heavily in the development and testing of additively manufactured components."

Not only did the 3D printing process reduce production time by roughly 40 per cent, it has also allowed Aerojet engineers to design components that were once impossible to build using traditional manufacturing techniques.

"We have invested the time and resources necessary to gain a thorough understanding of not only what it takes to build components, but how they will perform in their harsh environments," said Jay Littles, director of Advanced Launch Vehicle Propulsion at Aerojet Rocketdyne. "What sets us apart from someone just buying a 3-D printer is that we understand the process from start to finish, from feed powders, to the optimized machine process parameters, to the resulting material microstructures and material properties. Beyond the materials characterization efforts, we've analyzed and tested the components to ensure that they perform as designed."

The next steps for the twelve 3D printed components will be a series of tests and inspections, including hot-fire tests, to qualify the components for use aboard Orion’s Exploration Mission-1 test flight in 2018.

This news is just the latest in NASA and Aerojet Rocketdyne’s ongoing, two-decade-long relationship. As mentioned above, the two organizations signed a nine-year contract to 3D print components for the RS-25 rocket engine. Just a few months before that, NASA conducted tests on 3D printed F-1 rocket engine parts built by Aerojet. In fact, we’ve been reporting on this partnership since 2013, when NASA and Aerojet first finished testing on a rocket engine injector made through 3D printing technology. In addition to NASA, Aerojet has worked closely with the US Air Force for more than twenty years to further evolve 3D printing aerospace technology.

“The company has had several successes in developing this 3-D printing technology for a broad range of products – from discrete component demonstrations, to hot-fire testing of engines and propulsion systems made entirely with additive manufacturing,” said Littles. “Now, we can add qualifying components for human spaceflight programs to that list of accomplishments.”



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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