Editorial Feature

NASA Tests 3D Printed Rocket Engine

Liquid oxygen/gaseous hydrogen rocket injector assembly built using additive manufacturing technology is hot-fire tested at NASA Glenn Research Center

3D printing and additive manufacturing has the potential to be used within space travel. There could be a time where space stations and spacecraft are constructed in space using this process.

Back on earth and in present day, NASA are examining ways that 3D printing can be used to produce rocket engines.

NASA’s Glenn Research Center has just completed successful testing for Aerojet Rocketdyne who have designed and manufactured a rocket engine injector, which was produced using 3D printing.

Usually, such technology would take around a year to manufacture however, with this process it can take less than four months with a 70% reduction in costs.

The rocket engine detector was manufactured using a method of high laser beams, which melt and fuse fine metallic powders into 3D structures.

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. 3-D 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.

Michael Gazarik, Associate Administrator for Space Technology, NASA

Marshall engineers installed the injector in a subscale RS-25 engine model. During hot-fire testing, the engine and part were exposed to temperatures of nearly 6,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

Testing consisted of examining the process of design, manufacture and test using the laser melting technology.

Hot fire testing the injector as part of a rocket engine is a significant accomplishment in maturing additive manufacturing for use in rocket engines.

Carol Tolbert, Manager, Manufacturing Innovation Project, Glenn

What testing has shown is that NASA are ready to move toward the development of full sized, additively manufactured parts.

Similar testing on 3D printed rocket parts have taken place at the Marshall Space Flight Center whereby, using “hot fire testing” were not only able to test the 3D printed rocket parts but were also able to compare them to traditionally manufactured parts, showing no difference besides the saving in costs.

So it looks as though NASA are stepping up their 3D printing, additive manufacturing research and development. The savings on cost and time is a major positive and could benefit space exploration in the long term.

Kris Walker

Written by

Kris Walker

Kris has a BA(hons) in Media & Performance from the University of Salford. Aside from overseeing the editorial and video teams, Kris can be found in far flung corners of the world capturing the story behind the science on behalf of our clients. Outside of work, Kris is finally seeing a return on 25 years of hurt supporting Manchester City.


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