CAPE CANAVERAL, FL - OCTOBER 25: A Boeing Delta 2 rocket lifts off from launch pad 17B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station carrying NASA's STEREO spacecraft at Cape Canaveral, Florida, October 26, 2006. The STEREO mission will study the sun and reveal 3D views of its coronal mass ejections. (Photo : Matt Stroshane/Getty Images)
Milestone after milestone has been made where NASA's efforts to build a rocket engine via 3D printing is concerned.
Recently, the space agency conducted a test on an engine made of 3D-printed parts, with the results showing that the said prototype was able to generate more than 20,000 pounds of thrust, which is said to be enough for a Mars lander, and can withstand heat up to 6,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
"We manufactured and then tested about 75 percent of the parts needed to build a 3-D printed rocket engine," explained project manager Elizabeth Robertson in NASA's official site. "By testing the turbopumps, injectors and valves together, we've shown that it would be possible to build a 3-D printed engine for multiple purposes such as landers, in-space propulsion or rocket engine upper stages."
"The turbopump got its 'heartbeat' racing at more than 90,000 revolutions per minute (rpm) and the end result is the flame you see coming out of the thrust chamber to produce over 20,000 pounds of thrust, and an engine like this could produce enough power for an upper stage of a rocket or a Mars lander," revealed Nick Case, who led the testing efforts.
NASA had been exploring the possibility of creating 3D-printed rocket engines for some time now. The latest test is a result of its efforts over the last couple of years.
The parts were printed using powdered metal. A design is inputed to the 3D printer's computer. The printer then proceeds to construct the parts by layering the powder and melding it together with a laser.
The 3D printing technology allowed NASA to "design each part with demonstrably fewer components than typically needed," Fortune said. Also, the valves took a shorter time to manufacture. Instead of more than a year's timeframe for these parts, the 3D printing option only took a few months to churn out the component, thus saving not only money but also time.
Marshall Space Flight Center associate technical director Dale Thomas conceded, though, that they ultimately cannot rely solely on 3D printing; there will still be traditional manufacturing techniques involved. However, he added that "additive is going to have some real game-changing benefits."
"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," NASA's associate administrator for space technology Michael Gazarik also affirmed, as noted by Digital Trends.
Have something to add to this story? Comment and be heard!