A NASA team moved a step closer to building a completely 3-D printed, high-performance rocket engine by manufacturing complex engine parts and test firing them together with cryogenic liquid hydrogen and oxygen to produce 20,000 pounds of thrust.
Additive manufacturing, or 3-D printing, is a key technology for enhancing space vehicle designs and manufacturing and enabling more affordable exploration missions. The technology has the potential to influence spacecraft built for leaving Earth and spaceships and landers for visiting other destinations. Future plans include performing engine tests with liquid oxygen and methane–key propellants for Martian landers since methane and oxygen production might be possible on the Red Planet.
“We manufactured and then tested about 75 percent of the parts needed to build a 3-D printed rocket engine,” said 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.”