Jan 12, 2016 | By Alec

It is increasingly looking like NASA is betting it all on 3D printing. Over the past few years, the American space exploration giants have been green lighting and ordering 3D printing innovations for a wide range of products, and more often than not seem to do so with aerospace 3D printing specialists Aerojet Rocketdyne. And that trend seems to continue, as Aerojet Rocketdyne has now again been tapped for the final development of the MPS-130 CubeSat Modular Propulsion System that uses a green propellant. The MPS-130 is expected to be 3D printed, just like its MPS-120 predecessor.

This new deal seems to be part of a long collaborative history between Aerojet Rocketdyne and NASA. Aerojet is a well-known aerospace innovator, that provides high quality design solutions for aerospace and defense clients, and are especially recognized as a world-renowned provider of propulsion and energetics solutions that extensively uses 3D printing. Just a few weeks ago, they signed a $1.6 billion contract with NASA 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 3D printed rocket engine injector.

In short, Aerojet Rocketdyne seems to be the company you need for 3D printed rocket propulsion systems, and they have also recently successfully tested the MPS-120, the first 3D printed hydrazine integrated propulsion system. At the time Julie Van Kleeck, vice president of Space Advanced Programs at Aerojet Rocketdyne, said that 3D printing technology was perfect for aerospace solutions. "Aerojet Rocketdyne continues to push the envelope with both the development and application of 3-D printed technologies, and this successful test opens a new paradigm of possibilities that is not constrained by the limits of traditional manufacturing techniques," she said.

Through this new deal, it seems like the MPS-130 CubeSat propulsion system will be developed through the same principles. It is unusual in one respect, as it will be the first of its kind to use a green propellant (AF-M315E, to give its full name). Not only would this improve the capacity of in-space CubeSat capacities, but it also provides a safer, more efficient and higher performance alternative than traditional hydrazine propellants. "We're excited about this partnership with NASA to advance CubeSat propulsion with green propellants," Eileen Drake, the CEO of Aerojet Rocketdyne said in response to the deal. "There's no doubt it will open exciting new doors in the private and public sectors for those seeking to increase the capability of nanosats and operate them more affordably and efficiently, and with safer propellants."

The idea is that the green propulsion system of the MPS-130 will give CubeSats and nanosats a lot more power, comparable to that of large satellites but then on a small scale. This would result in longer missions, higher resilience and more maneuvering options while in higher and lower orbits. Complex proximity operations and formation flying will also be enabled by this next-gen propulsion system. It will both primary propulsion and 3-axis control capabilities in a single package, and this has been designed for CubeSat customers needing significant ΔV capabilities. For more on the MPS-130 specifications, go here.

Aerojet was tapped for this development under the "Utilizing Public-Private Partnerships to Advance Tipping Point Technologies" program of NASA, which seems to take next-gen technologies like 3D printing into a commercially viable realm. As part of the deal, Aerojet Rocketdyne will deliver a fully integrated MPS-130 system featuring green propulsion for flight demonstration. They will also conduct development and validation testing as part of this deal.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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