3D printed rocket engines get fired up

Aerojet Rocketdyne, a California-based rocket and missile propulsion manufacturer, has announced successful hot-fire testing of its 3D-printed thrust chamber for the RL10 engine. The component was manufactured in copper using Selective Laser Melting (SLM).

“We believe this is the largest copper-alloy thrust chamber ever built with 3D printing and successfully tested,” said Jeff Haynes, Aerojet Rocketdyne’s program manager advanced materials & processes. “Producing aerospace-quality components with additive manufacturing is challenging. Producing them with a high-thermal-conductivity copper alloy using SLM technology is even more difficult. Infusing this technology into full-scale rocket engines is truly transformative as it opens up new design possibilities for our engineers and paves the way for a new generation of low-cost rocket engines.”

The RL10 rocket engine has helped to place satellites into orbit, it has helped send exploration spacecraft to other planets, including NASA’s spacecraft Voyager 1, the first to reach interstellar space, and New Horizons, the fastest to ever leave Earth’s orbit.

The chamber design of the 3D-printed RL10 copper thrust chamber reduces the time to manufacture from several months to just under one month, and the number of parts by 90% to just two. With 3D printing, also comes the ability to design and build advanced features that allow for improved heat transfer.

Aerojet Rocketdyne is also applying 3D printing technology to its other products, including the RS-25 and the AR1 booster engines.