Jan 11, 2017 | By Tess
Sometimes it seems as though 3D printing technologies are hurtling forwards at rocket speed, with new materials, systems, and software being developed on the regular. Today, this could not be more true. Rocket Crafters, Inc., a Florida-based aerospace tech developer, has just been granted a U.S. patent for its innovative method of designing and 3D printing safe, high-performance fuel grains for hybrid rocket engines. According to the company, 3D printing will be used to manufacture the rocket combustion chamber, which will in turn cut down significantly on launch costs. The patent was given to Ronald Jones, President & CTO of RCI.
The newly patented 3D printing fuel technology is being integrated into RCI’s Intrepid-1, heralded as the “world’s first mass-producible orbital launch vehicle powered by rocket engines.” Thanks to the patent, the aerospace company says it is well on its way to putting its innovative rocket motors into orbital vehicles by as early as 2019.
So, how does 3D printed fuel work? Well, it is not quite fuel as you imagine it. Essentially, the patented 3D printing technology is capable of creating fuel grains, which are described as “a tubular shaped structure that dually serves as the rocket’s solid fuel source and combustion chamber.” What 3D printing has also allowed for is the manufacturing of complex internal geometries in the grains that are designed to optimize how much fuel can be combusted on a second-by-second basis.
Not only does the novel 3D printing method result in better rocket engine performance, however, it has also proven to reduce excess vibrations, which have for many years hindered the design and function of hybrid rockets. Now, with the 3D printed fuel, hybrid rockets—which are considered much safer because of their ability to store propellants in different states, protecting them against random detonation—could become much more viable in terms of safety.
As Jones explains, “The fuel grains we are able to produce using this technology provides the structural strength needed to minimize vibration build-up while still enabling the rocket engine to consume high energy solid fuel blends at an accelerated pace”. He adds, “This revolutionary patented technology enables for the first time the use of much safer, consistent performing hybrid rocket engines to power orbital launch vehicles.”
And while safety is the main concern, the 3D printed fuel does have the added bonus of cutting down costs as well. By creating launch vehicles with only two moving parts and 3D printed fuel, Jones reckons that his company’s expendable motors will be capable of launching small satellites into orbit at roughly half of current launch costs.
Within the company, the patent (US 9,453,479) marks another innovative licensed technology that can be added to RCI’s impressive portfolio of aerospace technologies, methods, and more. RCI was originally founded in 2010.
Posted in 3D Printing Technology
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