NASA test fires 3D printed rocket engine component

The space agency is hoping technologies such as 3D printers can lower the cost of space hardware.

NASA on Tuesday announced that it test fired a rocket engine that used a 3D printed component. The move may set the stage for similar efforts on long missions.

The test, conducted Aug. 22, delivered 20,000 pounds of thrust.

NASA's 3-D printing

NASA's 3-D printing breakthrough - it's all rocket science (images)

A successful test may help NASA significantly lower the cost and reliability of expensive rocket engine parts by building them with a 3-D printer.

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NASA said it is looking to new technologies to cut the cost of space hardware. The 3D printed component was an injector that delivers fuel to power the engine. Liquid oxygen and hydrogen gas passed through the injector.

One benefit for NASA will be the ability to use 3D printers to manufacture tools and even food on long space missions.

NASA added that the injector was made by Directed Manufacturing in Austin, TX, but the design is owned by the space agency. Directed Manufacturing specializes in rapid manufacturing and custom parts. NASA said it planned to make the design available for public use.


The rocket test. Source: NASA

Among the key details:

  • The component was manufactured using selective laser melting which layers nickel-chromium alloy powder to make the injector with 28 elements to channel and mix fuel.
  • The component was about the size of small rocket engine injectors.
  • NASA said the injector design was similar to what it will use in the engines for the NASA Space Launch System rocket to be used for deep space human missions.
  • The injector only had two parts compared to a previous test that had 115 parts. The upshot: Few parts means it's easier to use 3D printers to manufacture components.
  • According to NASA the injector worked flawlessly at heats up to 6,000 degrees Fahrenheit.