Sep 11, 2017 | By Tess

A team of engineers from Monash University in Melbourne, Australia has successfully designed, 3D printed, assembled, and test-fired a rocket engine in just four months. The rocket engine, called Project X, is based on an “aerospike” design which rethinks and inverts the structure of traditional rocket engines.

The breakthrough engine testing follows on the work of Amaero, an aerospace startup that was born out of a Monash initiative in 2015. Specifically, engineers from Monash worked in collaboration with CSIRO and Deakin University to produce what was hailed as the first 3D printed jet engine in the world.

Since Amaero’s founding after this achievement, the startup has gone on to work with a number of established and recognized aerospace companies. One of their more recent endeavours has involved working with Monash researchers to redesign and 3D print a rocket engine.

The result of this project, a unique aerospike-structured engine, was recently test-fired by the Amaero team and Monash researchers. The aerospike design demonstrated a number of benefits over a more traditionally shaped rocket engine.

Marten Jurg, an Amaero engineer, explains: “Traditional bell-shaped rockets, as seen on the Space Shuttle, work at peak efficiency at ground level. As they climb the flame spreads out, reducing thrust.”

“The aerospike design maintains its efficiency but is very hard to build using traditional technology. Using additive manufacturing we can create complex designs, print them, test them, tweak them, and reprint them in days instead of months,” he adds.

In light of their success in designing, 3D printing, and testing a rocket engine in just four months, the Monash researchers have formed a new startup called NextAero, which will aim to bring the research and achievements to the international aerospace industry.

“Going from concept to testing in just four months is an amazing achievement,” commented Professor Nick Birbilis, the head of the Material Science and Engineering Department at Monash. “It illustrates what’s possible for research and industry. Through our spin-out company, Amaero, Australian companies can design, print, and test metal components for everything from aerospace to surgical instruments, hose fittings to air conditioning parts.”

In other words, 3D printing played a critical role in the fast development and testing of the rocket engine, as it enabled the researchers to quickly produce prototypes and models of their designs, which in turn allowed for quick improvements and testing. Additionally, the technology enabled the researchers to incorporate complex structures into the engine design.

Graham Bell, NextAero project leader, said: “Designing for additive manufacture opens up a raft of possibilities. We were able to focus on the features that boost the engine’s performance, including the nozzle geometry and the embedded cooling network.”

“These are normally balanced against the need to consider how on earth someone is going to manufacture such a complex piece of equipment. Not so with additive manufacturing,” he added.

The innovative rocket engine will be presented by NextAero at the upcoming International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide from September 25 to 29. The research was realized with support from the Monash Univeristy, Amaero Engineering, and Monash’s Woodside Innovation Centre.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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