Washington, DC - NASA has tested the most complex rocket engine parts ever designed by the agency and printed with additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, on a test stand at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center (Huntsville, AL).
Related: NASA testing reveals one giant leap for 3D printing
Apart from helping the engineers build and test a rocket injector with a unique design, additive manufacturing also enabled them to test faster and smarter, according to NASA. They used selective laser melting to make the parts, which entailed entering the designs into the 3D computer's printer, building each part by layering metal powder, and then fusing it together with a laser.
In traditional manufacturing methods, 163 individual parts would be made and assembled; with 3D printing technology, only two parts were required, NASA said. The additive manufacturing process allowed the rocket designers to create an injector with 40 individual elements, all printed as a single component rather than manufactured individually.
The rocket engine parts will power NASA's under-production Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, a heavy-lift, exploration-class rocket that will take humans beyond Earth orbit and to Mars.
"One of our goals is to collaborate with a variety of companies and establish standards for this new manufacturing process," explained Jason Turpin, Marshall propulsion engineer.