Image courtesy of NASA Glenn Research Center -
Image courtesy of NASA Glenn Research Center –

Rocket parts can be complicated to make and expensive, so NASA teamed up with Aerojet Rocketdyne to design 3D printed components for rockets. The injector is one of the most expensive components to produce and additive manufacturing of the injector could save American companies time and money.

Both NASA and Aerojet Rocketdyne have recently tested their latest rocket injector that was made via additive manufacturing. What you see below is the liquid oxygen/gaseous hydrogen rocket injector assembly built using 3D printing technology being hot-fire tested at NASA Glenn Research Center’s Rocket Combustion Laboratory in Cleveland.

The injector was created with a technology called Selective Laser Melting (SLM). SLM uses a high-powered laser to melt and fuse fine metal powders into 3D objects. This allowed the two companies to produce highly accurate and strong components such as the injector.

“This project combined new additive design / analysis tools and manufacturing processes to make a component with legacy engine performance characteristics, paving the road to implement these technologies in these engine products,” said Jeff Haynes, program manager, Additive Manufacturing, Aerojet Rocketdyne.

According to Rocketdyne, the 3D printed injector would have a cost reduction of 70 percent and would take four months to produce rather than a year it currently takes. Both companies believe that the next step is to scale up the components made and establish production requirements.

“NASA recognizes that on Earth and potentially in space, additive manufacturing can be game-changing for new mission opportunities, significantly reducing production time and cost by ‘printing’ tools, engine parts or even entire spacecraft,” said Michael Gazarik, NASA’s associate administrator for space technology in Washington.

“Hot fire testing the injector as part of a rocket engine is a significant accomplishment in maturing additive manufacturing for use in rocket engines,” said Carol Tolbert, manager of the Manufacturing Innovation Project at Glenn.

Additive manufacturing components is supported by the Game Changing Technology Program in NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. NASA’s technology program includes innovating, developing and testing of new technologies.