Nov 13, 2015 | By Benedict

Johns Hopkins University’s Whiting School of Engineering has been given over half a million dollars by the U.S. Air Force in order to produce 3D printed engine components. The research is being undertaken to end the Air Force’s politically untenable dependence on a Russian rocket engine.

After Russia’s occupation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea in 2014, both the European Union and the U.S.A. enacted sanctions on Russia in the hope that Vladimir Putin would end military occupation of the disputed territory. Russia’s refusal to listen to the international community resulted in the U.S.A. cutting a number of trade links with the former Soviet state, including military ones. As part of America’s effort to eliminate any dependence on Russian engineering, various educational and research institutions have been tasked with creating American alternatives to previously-used Russian wares. As part of this national initiative, the Whiting School of Engineering, part of Johns Hopkins University, has been awarded a $545,000 contract from the U.S. Air Force. The lucrative contact, the first in a series of Booster Propulsion Technology Maturation BAA Awards, has been provided to enable research into additive manufacturing techniques which can be used to make cooling chambers for liquid rocket engines.

The Air Force currently uses the RD-180, a Russian rocket engine, to power its United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket, which is used to launch many U.S. national security satellites. Although Congress had already allocated funding to replace the Russian RD-180, the Air Force has decided to delegate its own task force, in order to encourage competition in military launches. The Air Force has outlined two main goals for its project, setting a deadline of two years. The two goals are, firstly, to reduce the cost of rocket propulsion components with the use of 3D printing and new materials, and secondly, to enhance its launch capabilities even while lowering costs.

"The end goal of our strategy is to have two or more domestic, commercially viable launch providers that also meet national security space requirements," explained Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves, SMC commander and the Air Force's program executive officer for space. "This is essential in order to solidify U.S. assured access to space, transition the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program away from strategic foreign reliance, and support the U.S. launch industry's commercial viability in the global market."

The contract awarded to the Whiting School of Engineering at Johns Hopkins is the first in a series of planned contracts for developing cheaper propulsion components. The Air Force plan to make between six and eight partnerships, with a combined value of $35 million. With the large majority of that figure still to be awarded, expect more costly deals to be completed in the coming months.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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