NASA Working on 3D Printed Rocket Engine, Tests Show It Works

Slowly but surely, the wonder that is 3D printing is taking over the manufacturing world. Generally depicted as additive manufacturing, the method has a number of advantages over traditional processes and can literally be used in any field—including rocket building.
NASA 3D printed rocket engine 1 photo
Photo: NASA
Historically speaking, the rockets that have supported space programs over the years have been extremely complicated machines. It takes forever to make them, they need tons of resources to be put together, and they generally get thrown away after just one use.

NASA is planning to cut back on some of these aspects by going the 3D printing way. Together with Aerojet Rocketdyne, it has already started putting together parts that could be used in the near future to make a more lightweight, simpler, and cost-efficient liquid rocket engine.

The team handling the project is Marshall Space Flight Center’s Robotic Deposition Technology (RDT). It has already come up with combustion chambers, nozzles, and injectors produced this way, and some tests that have been performed have shown promise.

To date, says NASA, these parts have accumulated over 365 seconds of hot fire tests, and those are some of the hardest conditions a rocket engine has to endure. For instance, the main combustion chamber was subjected to 750 pound-force per square inch (psi) of pressure, in a very hot environment, at 6,200 degrees Fahrenheit (3,426 degrees Celsius).

Three nozzle designs, made from different carbon composites, had to withstand 7,000 pounds of thrust at 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit (2,200 degrees Fahrenheit) and have coped great as well.

NASA does not say how long it will be until an entire rocket engine could be put together this way, but we’re probably still a long way from that moment. When ready, though, 3D printed rocket engines might find their way into landers and on-orbit stages or spacecraft.
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About the author: Daniel Patrascu
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Daniel loves writing (or so he claims), and he uses this skill to offer readers a "behind the scenes" look at the automotive industry. He also enjoys talking about space exploration and robots, because in his view the only way forward for humanity is away from this planet, in metal bodies.
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