NASA has successfully tested a rocket engine injector, produced with 3D printing, on a test stand at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. It’s the most complex rocket engine components ever designed by the space agency. NASA recently released footage of one of the injectors undergoing testing.
3D printing increases performance of rockets
Injector is crucial to the rocket engine’s performance. It mixes hydrogen gas and liquid nitrogen to produce a combustion of over 6,000 degrees Fahrenheit and generates more than 20,000 pounds of thrust. NASA had two rocket engine injectors manufactured by Directed Manufacturing in Austin and Solid Concepts in Valencia. The agency tested each injector for five seconds at a time.
Besides helping engineers produce and test the complex rocket injector, 3D printing also helped them to test smarter and faster, NASA said. Engineers used a process called selective laser melting to enter the injector’s design into the 3D printer’s computer. Each part of the injector was first made by layering metal powder and then these parts were fused together with a laser.
Chris Singer, director of engineering directorate at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, said that he wanted to demonstrate how additive manufacturing could revolutionize rocket designs to increase system performance. The components performed very well during the tests, he said. Only two parts were required using 3D printing technology. In contrast, 163 individual parts are made and assembled in traditional manufacturing methods.
NASA testing 3D printed injectors for its SLS rocket
3D printing allowed engineers to create 40 individual elements of the injector, all printed as a single component instead of manufacturing them individually. These injectors will power NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, which is currently under development. SLS is an exploration class, heavy-lift rocket being developed to take humans to Mars.
Notably, Elon Musk-led SpaceX has already tested 3D printed engine chambers of its new SuperDraco Thrusters in May. The SuperDraco Thrusters will go into SpaceX’s Dragon Version 2 spacecraft. The space exploration company said the 3D printed thruster helped them save money and conserve weight.