WASHINGTON — ASRC of Beltsville, Md., has test fired a subscale propellant injector built via additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, paving the way for a version that could support whichever engine United Launch Alliance chooses to replace the Russian-built RD-180 on the Atlas 5 rocket.
ASRC’s Federal Technical Services division conducted the full-power test in April, retiring risk on an engine component that could potentially be built in a quarter of the time of previous techniques.
“We reduced production time for this injector to eight days, which would have been over a month using traditional machining,” Joseph Sims, ASRC Federal Technical Services project manager, told SpaceNews. “We also reduced parts count from five parts to a single part.”
The U.S. Air Force supplied $3.69 million to ASRC in January 2016 to create a preburner that enables “continuous dilution” of fuel in an engine’s combustion chamber — a technology the Air Force anticipates would improve engine reliability while cutting life cycle cost.
In a statement provided to SpaceNews, ASRC said the 3D printed propellant injector will be used in the company’s subscale oxygen-rich preburner (ORPB), which could then support whichever oxygen-rich staged combustion cycle (ORSC) engine ULA downselects.
Both Aerojet Rocketdyne’s AR1 and Blue Origin’s BE-4 are ORSC engines. In a 2014 SpaceNews interview, Julie Van Kleeck, Aerojet Rocketdyne’s vice president of space and launch systems, said ORSC technology, while prevalent in Russia, hasn’t been used in American rockets.
Sims said ASRC’s technology maturation program “is structured to provide a pre-burner design that could be inserted into the ORSC engine development program in 2019.”
ASRC’s next step is to use the test results to finalize its subscale preburner design, which will undergo testing by the end of this year.