Engineering & Product Development: How 3D Printing is Building Rocket Engines

Engineering & Product Development: How 3D Printing is Building Rocket Engines

One of the top uses of 3D printing has been in the aerospace industry. The fabrication technique, being developed by both NASA and the commercial sectors, is allowing for the construction of engines with fewer moving parts, of stronger materials, and lighter weight. Such jet and rocket engines will have a much great performance than those built by more conventional methods.

One of the first rockets that has an entirely 3D-printed engine is called the Electron, build by a New Zealand company called Rocket Lab. The Rutherford engine, according to 3DPrint.com, has the following components 3D printed:

  • Regeneratively-cooled thrust chamber
  • Injector
  • Pumps
  • Main propellant valves

The Electron is scheduled to have its first flight test sometime in the spring of 2017. If all goes well, the Rutherford will be the first 3D-printed engine to fly in space. The turbo pump is the first on a rocket that will be turned by electricity. The Rutherford has already undergone hundreds of test firings on the ground.

The use of 3D printing technology, Rocket Lab hopes, will enable low-cost deployment of small satellites to low Earth orbit at less than $5 million a launch.  The Electron is also the chosen launch vehicle for Moon Express’ attempt to win the Google Lunar XPrize by landing the first private probe on the moon’s surface. If the test plan goes as planned, the Moon Express launch will take place by the end of 2017, the deadline of the competition.

In the meantime, Rocket Lab intends to launch three Electrons in test flights before going to commercial operations.

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