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NASA Fires Up Tests for 3D-Printed Engine Component


After some anticipation, NASA has finally hot-fired their unique rocket engine that was made famous for its use of an additively manufactured injection component. If the part exceeds expectations, then we could possibly see NASA implement the technology for upcoming projects. 

The injector is the part that allows the hydrogen fuel and liquid oxygen in the engine to pass through the combustion chamber where the thrust is produced. In this case, the injector, made from layers of nickel-chromium alloy powder through selective laser sintering, produced 20,000 pounds of thrust. This is ten times more than any other engine that has used a 3D-printed component.

“We took the design of an existing injector that we already tested and modified the design so the injector could be made with a 3D printer,” said Brad Bullard, the propulsion engineer responsible for the injector design. “We will be able to directly compare test data for both the traditionally assembled injector and the 3D printed injector to see if there’s any difference in performance.”

Back in July we covered the first testing of this engine injector and its success. It was found that through additive manufacturing, the injector, which normally takes over a year to build, could be constructed in less than four months. In addition, the new process reduced costs by 70 percent.

Michael Gazarik, NASA’s associate administrator for space technology in Washington said, "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.  3D manufacturing offers opportunities to optimize the fit, form and delivery systems of materials that will enable our space missions while directly benefiting American businesses here on Earth."

Although the injector is still being analyzed, data from the test showed that it withstood 1,400 pounds of pressure per square inch and temperatures of 6,000 degrees Fahrenheit. This is great news for NASA, which means that there’s a good chance that we’ll see them utilize this technology more in the future. 

For now, NASA has hopes of using additive manufacturing to print tools on the International Space Station. Also, if the lunar module breaks down while in space, millions of miles from any “repair shop,” printing parts to repair it could be a possibility. Another idea that’s not out of the question? 3D printed food for astronauts in space. 

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