NASA testing reveals one giant leap for 3D printing

Aerojet Rocketdyne has shown the potential for more efficient manufacturing of rocket engines using selective laser melting.

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Cleveland, OH - After successfully completing tests held here at the Glenn Research Center, Aerojet Rocketdyne has demonstrated the potential for more efficient manufacturing of rocket engines, saving aerospace companies substantial amounts of both time and money.

A series of firings of a liquid oxygen and gaseous hydrogen rocket injector assembly revealed the ability to design, manufacture, and test a highly critical rocket engine component using selective laser melting manufacturing technology.

Aerojet Rocketdyne designed and fabricated the injector by employing high-powered laser beams to melt and fuse metallic powders into 3-D structures. Usually creating such a component would take more than a year, but using these new methods it can be produced in less than four months with a 70 percent cost reduction.

"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 NASA's associate administrator for Space Technology in Washington, Michael Grazarik.

"3D 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, continued Grazarik.

Leader of the testing at Glenn, Tyler Hickman added: "Rocket engine components are complex machines pieces that require significant labor and time to produce. The injector is one of the most expensive components of an engine."

"The injector is the heart of a rocket engine and represents a large portion of the resulting cost of these systems,” said Aerojet Rocketdyne's additive manufacturing program manager, Jeff Haynes. “Today, we have the results of a fully additive manufactured rocket injector with a demonstration in a relevant environment."

Manager of the Manufacturing Innovation Project at Glenn, Carol Tolbert, concluded: "Hot fire testing the injector as part of a rocket engine is a significant accomplishment in maturing additive manufacturing for use in rocket engines. These successful tests let us know that we are ready to move on to demonstrate the feasibility of developing full-size, additively manufactured parts."


(Image via Shutterstock)

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