NASA Test Fires 3-D Printed Rocket Motor Injector

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WASHINGTON — A rocket motor injector manufactured via 3-D printing generated 20,000 pounds of thrust in an Aug. 22 hot fire test, according to NASA.

The NASA-designed injector was made by Directed Manufacturing of Austin, Texas, using a technique known as selective laser melting, in which layers of nickel-chromium alloy powder were shaped into a fuel injector comprising only two parts, NASA said in an Aug. 27 press release.

The test took place at Test Stand 115 at the Marshall Space Flight Center’s East Test Area near Huntsville, Ala.

“We took the design of an existing injector that we already tested and modified the design so the injector could be made with a 3-D printer,” Brad Bullard, the propulsion engineer at Marshall responsible for the injector design, said in the press release. “We will be able to directly compare test data for both the traditionally assembled injector and the 3-D printed injector to see if there’s any difference in performance.”

According to NASA, early test data shows the injector worked as designed in tests where operating pressure approached 100 kilograms per square centimeter in a vacuum, and temperatures were nearly 3,300 degrees Celsius.

NASA plans to make the test and materials data available to all U.S. companies through the Materials and Processes Information System database managed by Marshall’s materials and processes laboratory, the agency said in its press release.

So-called advanced manufacturing techniques, such as 3-D printing, are a big part of the Obama administration’s technology agenda. NASA has taken up the cue, pouring money into 3-D printing projects for everything from rocket engines to spare parts and tools for day-to-day repairs aboard the international space station.