Mar 9, 2016 | By Alec

Though the 3D printing revolution is picking up steam in all areas, few industries are pioneering the technology as strongly as the aerospace industry. Led by NASA, 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. That company has just revealed its latest success: a successful testing round for a 3D printed injector for the RL10 upper-stage rocket engine, arguably the most reliable upper stage rocket engine in the world right now.

The company calls this test another major milestone in its efforts to incorporate 3D printing into the production of their RL10 upper-stage rocket engine, which is also called the XR708. The test was done in collaboration with the US Air Force and NASA’s Glenn Research Center for the RL10 Additive Manufacturing Study (RAMS) program. Their goal, in a nutshell, is to demonstrate that 3D printed parts can be manufactured and qualified for use in large rocket engines.

It’s all 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 months ago, they signed a $1.6 billion contract with NASA to 3D print components for the RS-25 rocket engine. Before that, NASA conducted tests on 3D printed F-1 rocket engine parts built by Aerojet. In January, NASA again tapped Aerojet Rocketdyne for the optimization of a 3D printed MPS-130 CubeSat propulsion system. 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.

You could thus say that 3D printing is an integral part of Aerojet Rocketdyne’s activities, and indeed the company’s CEO Eileen Drake revealed that it is a key technology for reducing their costs and optimizing reliability. “Updating our products to take advantage of the advancements we've made in additive manufacturing technology is a key part of our strategy to deliver more affordable products to our customers while at the same time maintain the reliability they've come to expect,” she said. “This successful series of tests validates the rigorous approach we've been taking and confirms we are on the right path. Incorporating this technology will enable us to reduce significantly production lead times and make our products more cost competitive.”

This injector for the RL-10 rocket engine just emphasizes this. As they explain, it was manufactured using their selective laser melting (SLM) 3D printer, which uses a high-powered laser to fuse metal particles into complex geometries. The injector is just the latest example of one of their parts capable of performing under the extreme pressures and conditions of rocket engines.

However, it is certainly of the most complex they have developed so far, says Dr. Jay Littles, the company’s director of Advanced Launch Programs. “While we have had success developing additive manufacturing technology for a broad range of products—from discrete engine components to hot-fire testing engines and propulsion systems made entirely with additive manufacturing—this is among the most complex components we have tested in a large rocket engine to date,” he said in the company’s press release.

What’s more, this is just the start of what 3D printing can do for the aerospace and aviation industry, they say. “We've just scratched the surface of what this technology will do to revolutionize our industry. Our design engineers are just starting to take advantage of the expanded possibilities enabled by this new manufacturing technology. They are now free to design products that were once thought impossible to build due to the constraints of traditional manufacturing,” Littles concluded. More will doubtlessly follow

 

 

Posted in 3D Printer Company

 

 

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