Based on hot-fire tests of an Expander-cycle Integrated Demonstrator (ETID) that proved the technology and methods last year, ESA, ArianeGroup, and DLR German Aerospace Center have built and hot-fire tested a fully 3D printed thrust chamber.
The thrust chamber is a critical component of a rocket engine, converting the chemical energy stored in the propellants into the kinetic energy required to generate thrust. It thus needs to be able to withstand incredible pressure and stresses. The thrust chamber consists of an injector, a combustion chamber, and a nozzle.
This first test lasted 30 seconds and was carried out on 26 May 2020 at the DLR German Aerospace Center’s Lampoldshausen testing facility. Additional tests are planned next week. The data from this test campaign will be collected and analyzed. ESA partner DLR has also been conducting some very interesting tests of metal PBF technology in zero-G conditions on parabolic flights.
This fully 3D printed thrust chamber is built in just three parts and could power the upper stages of future rockets. Additive layer manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, allows more complex designs for higher performance, vastly reduces the number of parts in this case from hundreds to three, and speeds up production time. This reduces costs and significantly improves the competitiveness of liquid propulsion engines for European launch vehicles.
This fullscale chamber has a 3D printed copper liner with integrated cooling channels and a high-strength jacket built on via cold-gas spraying. Its manifold and single-piece injector head are also 3D printed. The production and test of these parts has been performed within ESA’s Future Launchers Preparatory Programme.
3D printing will be adopted across the board going forward for all ArianeGroup liquid-propellant engines, for both upper stage engines (ETID) and high-thrust main stage engines (Prometheus). The work on ETID and Prometheus is being carried out under ESA’s Future Launchers Preparatory Program (FLPP). This program aims to enhance the competitiveness of future European launchers by creating mature technical solutions that are ready for rapid deployment, developing products with lower cost, effort, and risk.
These programs enable ArianeGroup – which manages the entire parts value chain from design to manufacturing – to develop its expertise in the field of 3D printing for launcher propulsion systems, a technology that is revolutionizing the design and production of future rocket engines.
ArianeGroup already uses 3D printing to manufacture many components for Ariane 6 engines. Apart from significantly reducing costs and shortening production cycles, the use of 3D printing has made it possible to integrate the Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) into Ariane 6, thus increasing the launcher’s unrivalled ability to adapt to the needs of different missions.
ArianeGroup’s key advantages are its machines of the highest standard at the company’s Vernon(France) and Ottobrunn (Germany) sites, and the ability to draw on the expertise of local companies at the cutting edge of 3D printing, with the Normandy based Volum-e company, and in Germany, with AMCM in Starnberg and Impact Innovations in Rattenkirchen.