May 16, 2017 | By Tess

Aerojet Rocketdyne, a California-based rocket and missile propulsion manufacturer, has successfully hot-fire tested a 30,000 lbf thrust-class Bantam liquid-fueled rocket that was manufactured using 3D printing technology. The tests marked an impressive 500% increase in thrust levels from the 3D printed Baby Bantam engine that the company tested in June 2014.

The Bantam engine, which was designed, manufactured, and tested all within just seven months, is built for a thrust level of 30,000 lbf, making it suitable for the small launch vehicle and low-cost upper stage markets. According to the company, the successful test of its latest rocket is a significant step towards establishing a “family of low-cost, highly reliable rocket engines for booster, upper-stage, and in-space propulsion solutions.”

By using additive manufacturing to make the rocket, Aerojet Rocketdyne was not only able to speed up the production process, but was also able to radically simplify the rocket’s overall construction.

As the company explains, while a conventionally manufactured 30,000 lbf thrust-class engine would regularly be made up of easily over 100 parts, the Bantam liquid-fueled rocket that was tested is made up of only three segments. They are: the injector assembly, the combustion chamber, and the throat and nozzle section, all of which were welded together to make up the final rocket structure.

Additionally, by using 3D printing technologies, Aerojet Rocketdyne was able to cut back significantly on production costs for the rocket engine. “Its recurring price would also be a fraction of the cost of today’s products,” the company adds.

“The demonstration of a regeneratively cooled, high-chamber-pressure engine made completely with 3D printing is another key milestone in Aerojet Rocketdyne’s path to reducing the cost of rocket propulsion systems,” said Dr. Jay Littles, director of Advanced Launch Propulsion Programs at Aerojet Rocketdyne. “Printing the part is not the hard part, it is printing parts that can provide the performance and reliability that our customers depend on that is the key.”

The testing process, funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), consisted of 17 individual tests of a LOX/kerosene regeneratively cooled, liquid-rocket thrust chamber. The tests were designed to prove not only the performance of the 3D printed rocket, but also its durability and reusability. The tests reportedly addressed a number of engine operating parameters, conditions, and run durations.

“This successful series is another positive step in the validation of our technical approach and provides the foundation for future engine designs that take advantage of 3D printing technology to enable us to reduce production lead times and make our products more cost-competitive,” said Aerojet Rocketdyne CEO and President Eileen Drake.

Aerojet Rocketdyne has used 3D printing on a number of high-profile projects. For instance, it is currently working on an AR1 rocket engine, which will replace the Russian-made RD-180 engine, and recently tested the rocket’s preburner.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

 

 

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