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. As per the company, RL10 has been the nation’s premier upper-stage rocket engine for over 50 years. The component was manufactured in copper using Selective Laser Melting (SLM, commonly known as 3D printing) for the first time.
[Image Source: Aerojet Rocketdyne]
“We believe this is the largest copper-alloy thrust chamber ever built with 3-D printing and successfully tested,” said Additive Manufacturing Program Manager Jeff Haynes. “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.”
Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10? What Exactly is That?
Aerojet Rocketdyne’s web page for the RL10 rocket engine crisply describes its legacy: The RL10 rocket engine has played a pivotal role in placing satellites of all types into the Earth’s orbit, including those for military, government, and commercial purposes. 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.
Get more detail on the all new 3D-printed version here:
Why is This Big News?
Aerojet Rocketdyne has been committed to additive manufacturing technologies for two decades and has been working toward meeting the quality requirements in the aerospace and defense applications. After ample investment of effort and money, they are now beginning to incorporate the technology into actual production. This will be beneficial for several reasons:
Additive manufacturing is significantly faster and less labor-intensive than traditional manufacturing, which is subtractive
3D printing is able to cut production schedules several times, so that the same unit can be produced hundreds of times as compared to traditional manufacturing
Additive manufacturing has fewer constraints on the size and shape of materials being made, hence it brings new freedom to the design stage
Specifically, with the 3D-printed RL10 copper thrust chamber, the new chamber design reduces the time to manufacture from several months to just under one month, and the number of parts by 90 percent to just two. With 3D printing, also comes the ability to design and build advanced features that allow for improved heat transfer.
Aerojet Rocketdyne clearly sees these advantages, and is also applying 3D printing technology to its other products. Some of these are the RS-25 Engine, a rocket booster engine, and the AR1 Booster Engine, an affordable propulsion solution.
[Image source: Aerojet Rocketdyne]
So Why the Hoopla Around 3D Printing?
3D printing has been around since the 1980s, but to the average Joe, it’s really begun to matter only in the last few years. People around the world have been widening the scope of its applications. From chocolate, to prosthetics, to actual human organs—the technology is indeed revolutionizing not only manufacturing, but everyday life.
With more adoption and technological advances, there’s only one way for the technology to go: up. As more and more adoption of 3D printing technology happens across manufacturing, construction, medicine, and several other fields, the costs will continue to reduce and the applications will become even wider.