NASA tests limits of 3-D printing in rocket engine check - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

NASA tests limits of 3-D printing in rocket engine check

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Source: NASA/MSFC/David Olive Source: NASA/MSFC/David Olive
HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) -

The largest 3-D printed rocket engine component NASA has tested generated a record 20,000 pounds of thrust last week.

The space agency said the test of the injector is a milestone for advances to help reduce the cost of space hardware. Innovations such as additive manufacturing, or 3-D printing, foster new and more cost-effective capabilities in the U.S. space industry.

The injector delivers the propellants to the engine. During the test at the Marshall Space Flight Center, 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, the director of the Engineering Directorate at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville.

The injector was similar in size to injectors that power small rocket engines and 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, the 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 while 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.

(Watch video here: http://bit.ly/12I8ZYR)

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