Oct 10, 2017 | By Benedict

The ASRC (Arctic Slope Regional Corporation) Federal Technical Services division, part of the ASRC Alaska Native Corporation, has test-fired a 3D printed subscale propellant injector that could be used on United Launch Alliance’s replacement for the Russian-built RD-180 rocket engine.

ASRC tests its new 3D printed propellant injector

(Image: ASRC)

With the Russian-made RD-180 rocket engine being phased out of U.S. rockets due to political tensions between D.C. and Moscow, the development of its replacement has become one of the most riveting storylines of contemporary space engineering.

At present, Blue Origin—the Washington-headquartered aerospace company owned by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos—is set to replace the RD-180 with its BE-4, a rocket engine with 3D printed components. But with the BE-4 not expected to be operational for a couple of years, the process is still fairly up in the air.

Should the BE-4 fail to meet expected standards, aerospace companies Dynetics and Aerojet Rocketdyne will be waiting in the wings to offer their rival oxygen-rich staged combustion cycle (ORSC) engine to United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing that provides spacecraft launch systems to the U.S. government.

For the ASRC’s Federal Technical Services division, the identity of the eventual RD-180 successor doesn’t really matter, because a new 3D printed subscale propellant injector—which was this year test-fired in Washington—would purportedly be compatible with Blue Origin’s BE-4, Aerojet Rocketdyne’s AR-1, or whatever engine ends up getting the nod.

The full-power testing on the additively manufactured part was completed back in April, with engineers concluding that the functional component could be built in a quarter of the time it would take using other fabrication techniques.

Blue Origin's BE-4 remains the frontrunner to replace the Russian-made RD-180

“We reduced production time for this injector to eight days, which would have been over a month using traditional machining,” said Joseph Sims, ASRC Federal Technical Services project manager, in an interview with SpaceNews. “We also reduced parts count from five parts to a single part.”

The 3D printed propellant injector will be used in ASRC’s subscale oxygen-rich preburner (ORPB), commissioned by the U.S. Air Force in 2016 as part of a $3.69 million deal. Requirements for the preburner included the ability to continuously dilute fuel in an engine’s combustion chamber.

The ORPB will purportedly be able to support whichever rocket engine gets chosen to replace the RD-180.

According to Sims, the ORPB and its 3D printed propellant injector will be ready when it is needed, with the ASRC schedule “structured to provide a pre-burner design that could be inserted into the ORSC engine development program in 2019.”

Results from the test-firing session will be used to finalize the subscale preburner design, which will be subjected to testing later in 2017.

Learn more about how aerospace companies are using 3D printing to create an improved replacement for the RD-180:



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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