NASA 3D Printed Rocket Test
NASA's 3D printed rocket firing test
3D printing and space are intrinsically linked if it isn’t a Daily Mail article saying a printer is “like a replicator from Star Trek” it is NASA sending 3D printers into space to make tools and parts during space travel.
From the latter's latest press release, it does seem as if additive manufacturing will be the technology that makes space travel faster and more affordable for us all.
On August 22nd NASA tested their largest ever 3D printed rocket engine, it worked and worked better than anyone could have expected. The 3D Printed engine part generated 20,000 lbs of thrust, ten times that of the previous 3D printed part test.
"This successful test of a 3-D printed rocket injector brings NASA significantly closer to proving this innovative technology can be used to reduce the cost of flight hardware," said Chris Singer, director of the Engineering Directorate at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville Ala.
The reason NASA are so keen to develop the 3D Printed Engine parts is that they can be made quicker and a lot cheaper than traditional parts. The traditional rocket injector is made up of 115 parts whereas this additive manufactured version is just two parts. The ability to build complex, moving parts means less assembly and most importantly a reduction of up to 70 per cent in production costs.
"We took the design of an existing injector that we already tested and modified the design so the injector could be made with a 3-D printer," explained Brad Bullard, the propulsion engineer responsible for the injector design. "We will be able to directly compare test data for both the traditionally assembled injector and the 3-D printed injector to see if there's any difference in performance."
Early data from the test, conducted at pressures up to 1,400 pounds per square inch in a vacuum and at almost 6,000 degrees Fahrenheit, indicate the injector worked flawlessly. In the days to come, engineers will perform computer scans and other inspections to scrutinize the component more closely.
If, as NASA suspect, the inspections don’t show up any flaws then we could soon see NASA scaling up their 3D printing production. We wouldn’t suggest that it could mean affordable space flight in the near future but it certainly is a step closer.