Move aside wrench, NASA is pushing the boundaries of 3D printing. Engineers at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama tested one of the most complex rocket engine parts ever designed and printed using 3-D printing.

3D printing, or additive manufacturing, allowed engineers to create rocket engine injector with 40 individual spray elements. All of it was printed as one component instead of being manufactured individually. How is it printed? The printer layered metal powder and then fused it together using a laser in a process called selective laser melting.

The 3D printed injector mixed liquid oxygen and hydrogen to combust at over 6,000 degrees and created more than 20,000 pounds of thrust. Pretty damn awesome for a 3D printed part.

“We wanted to go a step beyond just testing an injector and demonstrate how 3D printing could revolutionize rocket designs for increased system performance,” said Director of Marshall’s Engineering Directorate Chris Singer. “The parts performed exceptionally well during the tests.”

If engineers used typical manufacturing methods, the injector would have more than 160 individual parts. The 3D printed version? Just two. This enhances the performance of the rocket and makes them less likely to fail according to NASA.

Check out the injector in action in the video below.

3D printing’s advantages are numerous. From testing to reducing costs.

“Having an in-house additive manufacturing (3D printing) capability allows us to look at test data, modify parts or the test stand based on data, implement changes quickly and get back to testing,” said Propulsion engineer Nicholas Case. “This speeds up the whole design, development and testing process and allows us to try innovative designs with less risk and cost to projects.”

Cutting costs is one of the most important things to come out of 3D printing. NASA’s funding has always trended on the light side in recent years. NASA’s press release says, “additive manufacturing is a key technology for enhancing rocket designs and enabling missions into deep space.”

Image credit: NASA photo/David Olive


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