Tech

August 31, 2013

NASA tests limits of 3-D printing with powerful rocket engine check

The largest 3-D printed rocket engine component NASA ever has tested blazed to life Aug. 22 during an engine firing that generated a record 20,000 pounds of thrust.

This test is a milestone for one of many important advances the agency is making to reduce the cost of space hardware. Innovations like additive manufacturing, or 3-D printing, foster new and more cost-effective capabilities in the U.S. space industry.

The component tested during the engine firing, an injector, delivers propellants to power an engine and provides the thrust necessary to send rockets to space. During the injector test, liquid oxygen and gaseous hydrogen passed through the component into a combustion chamber and produced 10 times more thrust than any injector previously fabricated using 3-D printing.

“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 component was manufactured using selective laser melting. This method built up layers of nickel-chromium alloy powder to make the complex, subscale injector with its 28 elements for channeling and mixing propellants. The part was similar in size to injectors that power small rocket engines. It was similar in design to injectors for large engines, such as the RS-25 engine that will power NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket for deep space human missions to an asteroid and Mars.

“This entire effort helped us learn what it takes to build larger 3-D parts — from design, to manufacturing, to testing,” said Greg Barnett, lead engineer for the project. “This technology can be applied to any of SLS’s engines, or to rocket components being built by private industry.”

One of the keys to reducing the cost of rocket parts is minimizing the number of components. This injector had only two parts, whereas a similar injector tested earlier had 115 parts. Fewer parts require less assembly effort, which means complex parts made with 3-D printing have the potential for significant cost savings.

“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.

The injector was made by Directed Manufacturing Inc., of Austin, Texas, but NASA owns the injector design. NASA will make the test and materials data available to all U.S. companies through the Materials and Processes Information System database managed by Marshall’s materials and processes laboratory.

NASA seeks to advance technologies such as 3-D printing to make every aspect of space exploration more cost-effective. This test builds on prior hot-fire tests conducted with smaller injectors at Marshall and at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. Marshall engineers recently completed tests with Made in Space, a Moffett Field, Calif., company working with NASA to develop and test a 3-D printer that will soon print tools for the crew of the International Space Station. NASA is even exploring the possibility of printing food for long-duration space missions.

NASA is a leading partner in the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation and the Advanced Manufacturing Initiative, which explores using additive manufacturing and other advanced materials processes to reduce the cost of spaceflight. For more information about the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation, visit: http://manufacturing.gov/nnmi.html.

 




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 

NASA signs agreement with German, Canadian partners to test alternative fuels

NASA has signed separate agreements with the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) to conduct a series of joint flight tests to study the atmospheric effects of emissions from jet engines burning alternative fuels. The Alternative Fuel Effects on Contrails and Cruise Emissions (ACCESS II) flights are set to...
 
 
afrc-x56c

X-56A testbed arrives at NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center

NASA photograph by Ken Ulbrich The diminutive X-56A Multi-Use Technology Testbed, mounted on a small trailer, is pulled away from its home for the past year, Hangar 4305 at Edwards’ North Base. The latest in a long series...
 
 
NASA photograph by Tony Landis

Recalling a record: X-43A Scramjet set new hypersonic record a decade ago

NASA photograph by Jim Ross The second X-43A hypersonic research aircraft and its modified Pegasus booster rocket accelerate into the stratosphere after launch from NASA’s B-52B launch aircraft over the Pacific Ocean on M...
 

 

NASA begins search for potential SOFIA partners

NASA issued a Request for Information March 31 soliciting potential partners interested in using the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy aircraft for scientific investigations or for other potential uses. NASA’s fiscal year 2015 budget request to Congress calls for SOFIA to be placed in storage next year unless the agency’s contribution to the project can...
 
 
NASA photograph by Carla Thomas

LVAC: Advancing technology readiness of SLS adaptive controls

NASA photograph by Carla Thomas NASA Armstrong’s highly modified F/A-18A Full Scale Advanced Systems Testbed aircraft No. 853 validated the effectiveness of the Adaptive Augmenting Controller developed by NASA Marshall en...
 
 

DARPAs role to change whats possible, director says

As part of the Defense Department’s science and technology community, the role of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is to change what’s possible, the DARPA director said March 26. DARPA makes pivotal early investments that allow the department to “take big steps forward in our national security capabilities, Arati Prabhakar told members of the...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>