NASA photo/David Olive
Engineers complete hot-fire testing with two 3-D printed rocket injectors.
As one of the biggest advocates for the benefits of 3D printing, NASA engineers have successfully tested the most complex rocket engine parts ever designed by the organization and printed by additive manufacturing.
The test at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Centre in Huntsville, Alabama, saw engineers push the limits of the technology with two 3D printed rocket engine injectors created with selective laser melting.
The SLM process allowed designers to print each injector with 40 individual spray elements. The injectors are similar in size to those that power small rocket engines but similar in design to injectors for large engines that will power NASA’s Space Launch System which is in development to take humans as far as Mars.
"We wanted to go a step beyond just testing an injector and demonstrate how 3-D printing could revolutionise rocket designs for increased system performance," said Chris Singer, director of Marshall's Engineering Directorate. "The parts performed exceptionally well during the tests."
With 3D printing, only two parts are required to make the injector unlike traditional manufacturing methods, which require 163 individual parts. Additive manufacturing has helped engineers to reduce costs and enabled much smarter and faster testing processes. The centre’s in house capability to design and produce small 3D printed parts has allowed the propulsion and materials laboratories to work together more efficiently to apply quick modifications during testing.
"Having an in-house additive manufacturing capability allows us to look at test data, modify parts or the test stand based on the data, implement changes quickly and get back to testing," said Nicholas Case, a propulsion engineer leading the testing. "This speeds up the whole design, development and testing process and allows us to try innovative designs with less risk and cost to projects."
Recently, engineers at NASA used 3D printing to complete the first 3D printed space cameras and earlier this year released 3D printable files of NASA satellites, asteroids and Mars terrain from their archives.