When we last left Tom Williams and his team of young engineers, they were busy bringing monster 1960s-era rocket engines back to life. That work continues to pay dividends, but Williams and the propulsion systems team at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, have a wide variety of projects in the works at the moment. Their latest? 3D printing rocket components from scratch and firing them.
The test shown above, which occurred on August 22, involved an entire 3D printed injector plate—the largest 3D printed component NASA has ever tested. It delivered enough fuel and oxygen to produce 20,000 lbs of thrust (about 89 kilonewtons), a bit more than you can get from an F-15’s Pratt and Whitney F100 turbofan running at full military power.
Of course, NASA’s 3D printing doesn’t have much in common with the kind of home 3D printing I’ve spent the past few weeks experiencing. While I’ve been faffing about with thermoplastics and fused deposition modeling, NASA has been busy forming metal powders into solids with a technique calleddirect metal laser sintering (referred to as DMLS or just MLS). For last week’s test, NASA had a contractor build a duplicate of a conventionally machined injector—a structure that introduces fuel and oxidizer into a rocket’s combustion chamber. (Arstechnica)