By now, we can 3-D print guns, bikes, and furniture. Turns out we can add rocket components to the list. NASA successfully tested a rocket engine injector made through additive manufacturing, a move that could help build rockets faster while reducing costs.
Designed by Aerojet Rocketdyne using high-powered laser beams to melt and fuse fine metallic powders, the rocket engine injector was subjected to high-pressure firings of liquid oxygen and gaseous hydrogen at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland.
In a statement, Michael Garzarik, NASA’s associate administrator for space technology, said:
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.
The tests signal NASA can begin developing full-sized, 3-D printed parts. By leveraging the technology, the agency could cut manufacturing time down to less than four months–it typically takes more than a year to produce the type of injector printed–and reduce costs by 70%.
“Rocket engine components are complex machined pieces that require significant labor and time to produce. The injector is one of the most expensive components of an engine,” said Tyler Hickman, an aerospace engineer who led the tests.