3D Printed Parts Used to make 20,000 Pound Thrust Rocket Motor!

3d Printer Rocket

A 3-D printed rocket part blazes to life during a hot-fire test.
Image Credit: NASA/MSFC/David Olive

Things that make you say Hmmm…printing a 20,000 pound thrust rocket motor….hmmm. I am off to Best Buy to get my first 3D printer!!!! The future is really her once we can start printing parts like this at home. IF we can make rocket engines how hard can a new faucet be? In any case NASA tested the largest 3-D printed rocket engine component ever created. Aug. 22 an engine firing test generated a record 20,000 pounds of thrust. They did not build an entire engine but they did make the critical injector. This part¬†delivers propellants to power an engine and provides the thrust necessary to send rockets to space. During the injector test, 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, director of the Engineering Directorate at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville Ala.
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. Okay, so I won’t be going to Best Buy to get a printer tomorrow after all….sigh.I don’t think they will have the 28 element laser melting model.
“This entire effort helped us learn what it takes to build larger 3-D parts — from design, to manufacturing, to testing,” said Greg Barnett, 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, whereas 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.
“We took the design of an existing injector that we already tested and modified the design so the injector could be made with a 3-D printer,” explained 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 3-D printed injector to see if there’s any difference in performance.”

Early data from the test, conducted at pressures up to 1,400 pounds per square inch in a vacuum and at almost 6,000 degrees Fahrenheit, indicate the injector worked flawlessly. In the days to come, engineers will perform computer scans and other inspections to scrutinize the component more closely.

One important thing about this technology is it will allow missions that are far from Earth to have an infinite number if spare parts available, they would just take a 3D printer with them and print replacement parts as they are needed. Wonder when the Warp drive will arrive???


About the author

Recipient of many prestigious NASA Awards including the Exceptional Public Service Medal and the Robert H. Goddard award. Experience includes working for NASA, as a contractor, in satellite design, construction and operations. Expert in the satellite operations concepts and ground systems including command, control, and science data processing.