A group of students forming the UC San Diego chapter of the organization known as Students for the Exploration and Development of Space represented the Jacobs School of Engineering when they conducted a hot fire test for a 3D-printed metal rocket engine that they, themselves designed. The rocket engine, aptly named Tri-D, was tested at the Friends of Amateur Rocketry launch site in the Mojave Desert on the morning of Saturday, October 5th. 

“It was a resounding success and could be the next step in the development of cheaper propulsion systems and a commercializing of space,” said President Deepak Atyam.

The students worked closely with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center to research the feasibility of additively manufactured rocket engines and designed an injector plate that employed the greatest features of 3D-printing technology. This method of constructing rocket engines opens possibilities for a whole new level of design with relatively few constraints, when compared to conventional methods of fabrication.  Using additive manufacturing technology to print whole rocket engines greatly benefits the aerospace industry by cutting development costs to a fraction of what is associated with conventional manufacturing methods. 

The entire process, from the project’s first conception in February to the final test on Saturday took around 8 months. The group of students’ work earned them the titles of being the first university in the world and the first entity out of NASA to test an entirely additively manufactured rocket engine. Furthermore, the engine’s design received the Student Prize award in the DIYRockets competition hosted by DIYRockets Inc. 

On Saturday morning, the team setup their hot fire mount system and ran through a full test of the capabilities of the engine with assistance from a local company called Flometrics. Tri-D was designed to power the third stage of a NanoSat launcher. NanoSats are miniaturized satellites that weigh 1.33 kilograms or less. The engine featured a unique injector plate design that was created by the team members, and a regenerative cooling jacket to make sure the motor doesn’t overheat. No more than 7 inches long, the engine is fueled by kerosene and liquid oxygen and is capable of 200 lbs of thrust. The total fiscal cost for manufacturing the engine and test stand was only $6,800. Once the test started, a phenomenon known as mach diamonds was very clearly visible in the exhaust plume of Tri-D. This indicates a supersonic gas flow through the nozzle. The outcome of the hot fire test was very successful and is a testimony to the bright future ahead of additively manufactured engines. 

If you’d like more information on this topic, please contact President Deepak Atyam through email, at datyam@gmail.com or Public Relations Manager Alexander Williams, at alexander.w.finch@gmail.com.