NASA successfully tests 3D printed rocket engine injector
Aerojet Rocketdyne selective laser melting process cuts production of expensive part from a year to four months at a fraction of regular cost.
NASA and Florida-based Aerojet Rocketdyne announced the recent testing of a rocket engine injector made through additive manufacturing which may lead to more efficient manufacturing of rocket engines. Conducted at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, the test firings of the liquid oxygen and gaseous hydrogen rocket injector assembly demonstrated the ability to design and manufacture a critical rocket engine component, NASA officials said.
Aerojet Rocketdyne designed and fabricated the injector by using selective laser melting, a method that employs high-powered laser beams to melt and fuse fine metallic powders into 3D structures. According to the company, this type of injector is one of the most expensive components of a rocket engine and would take more than a year to make using traditional methods. In contrast, it takes less than four months, at 70 percent of the cost, using laser sintering.
“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.
Glenn and Aerojet Rocketdyne partnered on the project with the Air Force Research Laboratory at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. At the Air Force lab, a unique high-pressure facility provided pre-test data early in the program to give 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.”