A group of engineering students at the University of California, San Diego have become the first students to successfully build and test a 3D printed rocket engine. The students represented the Jacobs School of Engineering and they successfully tested the rocket engine at the Amateur Rocketry testing site in the Mojave Desert on Sunday October 6.
NASA financed the majority of the funding needed for the completion of the student rocket engine. They used a proprietary design that they designed themselves for the engine. Illinois-based GPI Prototype and Manufacturing Services printed the rocket engine for the students and it was the first time the university had produced a 3D-printed liquid fueled metal rocket engine.
“It was a resounding success and could be the next step in the development of cheaper propulsion systems and a commercializing of space,” said Deepak Atyam, the organization’s president. “We’ve all been working so hard, putting countless hours to ensure that it all works,”
The team designed the engine to power the third stage of a rocket carrying several NanoSat-style satellites with a mass of less than a few pounds each. From end to end, the engine is only about 7 inches long and weighs 10 lbs, while producing 200 lbs of thrust. It burns kerosene and liquid oxygen and is made up of cobalt and a high grade chromium alloy. The entire rocket engine cost them a relatively small $6,800.
It took the students around eight months from the initial concept to testing of the rocket. Sunday’s successful test earned the students the title of the first University and students to produce and test a 3D printed rocket engine. It also makes them the second entity to successfully test a 3D printed Rocket engine after NASA. There efforts got them the Student Prize award in the DIYRockets competition hosted by DIYRockets Inc.
once the test started, a phenomenon known as mach diamonds was very clearly visible in the exhaust plume of Tri-D. This indicated that a supersonic gas flow through the engine nozzle was occurring. The outcome of the hot fire test was successful and shows that 3D printing could have a huge effect on future space missions.
Forman Williams, a professor of aerospace engineering at the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego said the design of liquid-propellant rockets is incredibly complex, but the students surprised him.
Take a look at the video of the test below and you can also check out their Facebook page.