Jan 6, 2016 | By Alec

Over the past few years, the military branches of various nations have been steadily adopting metal 3D printing technology as a cost-effective solution to quickly manufacture a wide range of parts, and the US Air Force is no exception. As they just announced, the Air Force is now upgrading their 3D printing capacity by enlisting the services of Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings Inc, who will develop new standards for 3D printed liquid-fueled rocket engine parts as part of a $6 million deal.

This new contract is part of a drive by the US military to reduce its dependency on costly, foreign-made components. The Atlas 5 rocket which is manufactured by United Launch Alliance, for example, features Russian-made RD-180 rocket engines. More contracts like this are expected over the coming year, with a major one for US-developed propulsion systems forthcoming. However, cost efficiency is also one of the goals, as 3D printing these engine parts will significantly reduce the cost and time involved in production, while even giving engineers more design freedom and flexibility.

Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings was reportedly tapped for their extensive experience in metal 3D printing, and the contract calls on Aerojet to define rigorous inspection processes that can be applied to 3D printed components to ensure that they meet the requirements of complex aerospace systems. They are also developing the AR1 engine as an alternative for the Russian RD-180 engine. The contract is part of the U.S. Air Force Booster Propulsion Technology Maturation Broad Agency Announcement.

According to Julie Van Kleeck, vice president of Advanced Space & Launch Programs at Aerojet Rocketdyne, 3D printing technology is perfect for aerospace manufacturing.  “New liquid rocket engine designs—like the AR1 engine we are building to replace the Russian-made RD-180—are increasingly taking advantage of 3-D printing technology because it reduces the amount of time and money required to build these complex components,” she said. “It is imperative that engine manufacturers understand the qualification methodology for this revolutionary technology because of the criticality of the assets they help launch into space.”

The Air Force’s decision to tap Aerojet Rocketdyne, a subsidiary of Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings, is not so surprising when their experience is taken into consideration. They are an innovative company with lots of experience in the aerospace and defense markets, and have previously worked on missile defense and strategic systems, among others. In 2014, they successfully tested an engine entirely made with 3D printed parts and was capable of producing 5,000 pounds of thrust. Last year, they also succeeded in replicating the injector of the gas generator used on the Apollo-era F-1 rocket engine using 3D printing, in an attempt to prove the technology’s cost effective and accurate reputation. “Incorporating additive manufacturing and the new qualification processes into our AR1 design will be essential to having an American engine for the Atlas V and proposed Vulcan launch vehicles ready by 2019,” said Van Kleeck.

Dr. Jay Littles, director of the company’s Advanced Launch Vehicle Propulsion department, was confident that their experience brings an extra dimension to the program. “We are taking our seven decades of experience in building rocket engines, which represents more than 2,100 successful launches, and combining that with our in-depth knowledge of additive manufacturing to assist the Air Force in defining qualification requirements for this technology,” he said. “In fact, Fast Company magazine named Aerojet Rocketdyne No. 1 in its ranking of ‘The World’s Top 10 Most Innovative Companies of 2015 in Space,’ because of the company’s advances in additive manufacturing.”



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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Chris C wrote at 1/6/2016 6:13:40 PM:

The Pentagon could not care less that thy are ordering up 1960's technology at 2010 prices. It would have been far safer to just use SpaceX rocket motors. These are state of the art and have been subjected to an incredible amount of validation. And having multiple rocket engines (versus one) is far more safe.

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