Earlier this month, NASA impressed the lot of us with a test firing of a 3D printed rocket injector. The test went swimmingly and compelled the agency to take it up a notch in future tests.
NASA's latest test saw the agency break its own record with a 3D printed rocket injector that generated more than 20,000 pounds of thrust. The breakthrough further affirms NASA's plan to replace some of its traditionally manufactured parts with 3D printed components. It not only saves the agency money, but it also reduces the complexity. A normal rocket injector is built using a myriad of parts whereas the most recent 3D printed injector is only comprised of two parts.
"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 NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville Ala.
Of course, it's not like NASA built a 3D printed plastic rocket injector. That would be silly. Instead, the agency used a sophisticated form of 3D printing called "selective laser melting." Here's how it works:
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.
Just like last time, NASA was kind enough to provide a video of the test firing. It should be noted that the rocket injector is being exposed to temperatures of almost 6,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The fact that it was able to withstand those temperatures leaves NASA's scientists feeling very positive about the future of 3D printing and space travel.[Image: NASA/MSFC/David Olive]