AerospaceAM for Space Exploration

NASA successfully tests 3D printed copper rocket thruster with composite overwrap

NASA engineers are consistently achieving innovative breakthroughs with additive manufacturing. Most recently, they tested a 2,400 lbf 3D printed copper rocket thrust chamber with a composite overwrap to determine whether the part had the necessary heat and structural load resistance.

The testing process consisted of 18 hot fire tests at high chamber pressure which were conducted at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. The results? A-OK! According to a release from NASA, the 3D printed copper rocket thrust chamber with the composite overwrap successfully withstood the high heats and loads of the tests.

The successful testing showcases the future potential of combining 3D printing and advanced composite technologies to manufacture thrust chamber assemblies for liquid rocket engines. Among the benefits of using 3D printing to produce rocket engine components are increasingly lightweight structures, faster lead times and lower production costs.

In addition to demonstrating the viability of the 3D printed copper rocket thruster and the composite overwrap, the recent testing also highlighted successful use of a new additive manufacturing technique for the nozzle.

NASA 3D printed copper rocket thruster
(Image: NASA)

The 3D printed copper rocket thrust chamber was produced and tested through NASA’s Rapid Analysis and Manufacturing Propulsion Technology (RAMPT) project. The goal of the project—which is in collaboration with Auburn University and specialty manufacturing vendors—is to advance design and manufacturing technologies to improve the efficiency of producing rocket engine assemblies for spacecraft.

Specifically, the project is targeting the reduction of manufacturing costs and the increase in scale and performance. To achieve these goals, the project is currently focused on upgrading the rocket engine component with the longest lead time, highest cost and heaviest weight. Ultimately, NASA plans to transition the processes and advances made in the RAMPT project to the space exploration industry.

In the space exploration segment, additive manufacturing is increasingly being used to redesign and update rocket components. In fact, the technology can be seen as a key part of the industry’s reinvigoration. In addition to established players such as NASA, space exploration startups are leveraging 3D printing to create launch vehicles and spacecraft components that are consolidated, more lightweight and easier to produce than their more traditional counterparts.

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Tess Boissonneault

Tess Boissonneault moved from her home of Montreal, Canada to the Netherlands in 2014 to pursue a master’s degree in Media Studies at the University of Amsterdam. It was during her time in Amsterdam that she became acquainted with 3D printing technology and began writing for a local additive manufacturing news platform. Now based in France, Tess has over two and a half years experience writing, editing and publishing additive manufacturing content with a particular interest in women working within the industry. She is an avid follower of the ever-evolving AM industry.

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