Over the last three years, NASA engineers have been exploring using additive technology, like 3D printing, to manufacture key rocket engine parts, including valves. The benefits of this technology are vast. For instance, valves that usually take a year to construct, were made by NASA in a couple of months. While tests on individual parts have proven successful, a recent test using 3D printed parts assembled into a rocket engine, has provided further cause for excitement.
At NASA’s Glenn Research Center’s Rocket Combustion Laboratory in Cleveland, Ohio, the space agency fitted all the parts onto a special test bench that behaves like a real rocket engine, and fired it up for a test. The engine fired at 90,000 RPMs for 10 seconds to produce 22,000 pounds of thrust, with all performance test parameters showing ‘green.’
According to Elizabeth Robertson, the Project Manager for the additively manufactured demonstrator engine at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama: “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.”