NASA’s 3D Printed Rocket Engine Parts Survives 23 Hot-Fire Tests

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After completing rigorous testing procedures in November this year, NASA, the premier space agency under the U.S. Federal Government, demonstrated that two 3D printed rocket engine components namely, a copper alloy combustion chamber and nozzle made of a high-strength hydrogen resistant alloy, have survived 23 hot-fire tests. The components had to undergo extreme combustion environments that traditionally manufactured metal structures experience in flight.


3D Printed Rocket Engine

Above: Hot-fire testing of an additively manufactured copper alloy combustion chamber and a nozzle made of a high-strength hydrogen resistant alloy/Image Credit: NASA

The high-strength hydrogen resistant iron-nickel superalloy is 3D printed through directed energy deposition – a 3D printing technology that uses powdered material fused together by powerful laser capable of creating complex shapes. This method allows engineers to manufacture small and large-scale components, as demonstrated in NASA’s RAMPT project.

According to Tom Teasley, a test engineer at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, “This 3D printed technology is a game-changer when it comes to reducing total hardware manufacturing time and cost. These hot-fire tests are a critical step in preparing this hardware for use in future Moon and Mars missions.”

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Teasley worked with a team of Marshall test engineers to put the 3D printed rocket engine parts through their paces. They performed 23 hot-fire tests for a total duration of 280 seconds over 10 test days. Throughout the testing, engineers collected data, including pressure and temperature measurements in hardware coolant channels and the main chamber, and high-speed and high-resolution video of the exhaust plume and chamber throat. The team also calculated the chamber’s performance and how efficiently the engine used propellant overall.

The tests were a part of NASA’s Long-Life Additive Manufacturing Assembly (LLAMA) project, which aims to enable these 3D printed parts – along with other additively manufactured hardware – for use on future lunar landers. The team will perform additional hot-fire tests to further demonstrate and validate the durability of the engine components. Marshall leads the LLAMA project for NASA’s Game Changing Development program, part of the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.

This new development paves the way for incorporating 3D printed rocket engine components in all the future lunar missions. This will significantly bring the mission costs down and reduce the production time.

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