NASA_3D-printed_engine_componentThe largest 3-D printed rocket engine component NASA ever tested blazed to life during an engine firing that generated a record 20,000 pounds of thrust.

The component tested during the engine firing, an injector, 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 ten times more thrust than any injector previously fabricated using 3-D printing, says NASA.

The component was manufactured using selective laser melting. This method built up layers of nickel-chromium alloy powder to make the subscale injector with its 28 elements for channeling and mixing propellants. The part was similar in size to injectors that power small rocket engines, and 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.

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, says NASA.

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.

The injector was made by Directed Manufacturing, of Austin, Texas, but NASA owns the injector design. NASA will make the test and materials data available to all U.S. companies through the Materials and Processes Information System database managed by Marshall’s materials and processes laboratory.

You can watch a video of the 3D printed injector hot firing here:

[Image courtesy: NASA/MSFC/David Olive]

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