July 15, 2013
First-Ever 3D Printed Rocket Part Successfully Tested
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe OnlineAerojet Rocketdyne tested a rocket engine injector made through 3D printing. NASA said this space technology could eventually help save American companies time and money. They were able to demonstrate the ability to design, manufacture and test this highly critical rocket engine component by using selective laser melting manufacturing.
"NASA recognizes that on Earth and potentially in space, additive manufacturing can be game-changing for new mission opportunities, significantly reducing production time and cost by 'printing' tools, engine parts or even entire spacecraft," said Michael Gazarik, NASA's associate administrator for space technology in Washington. "3-D manufacturing offers opportunities to optimize the fit, form and delivery systems of materials that will enable our space missions while directly benefiting American businesses here on Earth."
If the type of injector created was done through traditional processes it would have taken more than a year to make. However, using 3D printing, NASA and Aerojet Rocketdyne were able to produce it in less than four months, with a 70 percent reduction in cost.
"Rocket engine components are complex machined pieces that require significant labor and time to produce. The injector is one of the most expensive components of an engine," said Tyler Hickman, who led the testing at NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio.
Jeff Haynes, Aerojet Rocketdyne's additive manufacturing program manager, said this feat represents a huge step in application of manufacturing.
"The injector is the heart of a rocket engine and represents a large portion of the resulting cost of these systems. Today, we have the results of a fully additive manufactured rocket injector with a demonstration in a relevant environment." he said.
The team working on the injector partnered used the Air Force Research Laboratory at Edwards Air Force Base, California. NASA said this laboratory helped provide insight into the spray patterns of additively manufactured injector elements.
"Hot fire testing the injector as part of a rocket engine is a significant accomplishment in maturing additive manufacturing for use in rocket engines," said Carol Tolbert, manager of the Manufacturing Innovation Project at Glenn. "These successful tests let us know that we are ready to move on to demonstrate the feasibility of developing full-size, additively manufactured parts."