May 8, 2017 | By Benedict

Aerojet Rocketdyne has conducted hot-fire tests on the preburner for its AR1 rocket engine, designed to replace the Russian-made RD-180 engine. The company says the engine, built using 3D printing technology, is on track for flight readiness in 2019.

Although Aerojet Rocketdyne’s partially 3D printed AR1 rocket engine is currently a backup to the Congress-preferred Blue Origin BE-4 (which itself has several 3D printed parts), Aerojet Rocketdyne remains committed to its belief that the AR1 is “the nation's lowest-risk, lowest-cost-to-the-taxpayer and fastest path to replacing the Russian-built RD-180 engine.” The RD-180 is being taken out of service due to political tensions between the U.S. and Russia.

Recent hot-fire tests on the AR1’s preburner have only strengthened the company’s faith in its rocket engine, which could still replace the RD-180 as the primary engine used to launch U.S. national security payloads into space should Blue Origin slip up on the home stretch.

Following the recent successful tests on the AR1, Aerojet Rocketdyne CEO and President Eileen Drake commented that the “important milestone,” achieved at NASA’s Stennis Space Center, keeps the AR1 “squarely on track for flight readiness in 2019.”

“Our proven design process and demonstrated manufacturing approaches are key contributors to Aerojet Rocketdyne's unmatched record of mission success,” Drake added. “When replacing the Russian-made engines on current launch vehicles, mission success has to be the country's number one priority.”

3D printing and other modern technologies were used to create the preburner, which drives the engine's turbomachinery, the parts of the engine that transfer energy between rotor and fluid. A high-strength, burn-resistant, nickel-based super alloy called Mondaloy was 3D printed to make certain parts.

“Due to the hot, oxygen-rich environment inside a staged combustion engine like the AR1, burn-resistant materials are necessary to ensure safe operation of the engine under all conditions," said Julie Van Kleeck, vice president of Advanced Space and Launch Programs and Strategy.

“Mondaloy 200™ alloy is the perfect material to use in the AR1, particularly when combined with 3D printing, because it eliminates the need for exotic metal coatings currently used in the Russian-made RD-180 engine that the AR1 is designed to replace.”

According to Aerojet Rocketdyne, the company is following a similar approach used to create engines like the RS-68, J-2X, RL10, and RS-25. This entails testing critical components individually (the AR1’s 3D printed injector was tested over two years ago) before full engine testing. The company says this approach minimizes changes once engine-level testing begins.

In accordance with its original schedule, the AR1 engine design team has now successfully completed a series of 22 component Critical Design Reviews that will be followed by an engine system Critical Design Review to support engine qualification and certification in 2019.

The 2019 deadline has been imposed by Congress, which is evaluating the contenders to replace the Russian-made RD-180. The frontrunner is the BE-4, made by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, though United Launch Alliance is also attempting to build a US-made copy of the RD-180. Development of the BE-4 is ahead of the AR1, with the Blue Origin engine expected to be ready to fly by 2019.

Aerojet Rocketdyne’s contract with the U.S. Air Force to develop the AR1 is said to be worth $115 million.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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