Hot-Fire Tests On NASA’s SLM Parts A Success

Thu, 07/18/2013 - 9:35am
David Mantey, Executive Editor, PD&D

Aerojet Rocketdyne (AR) is known in the aerospace and defense industries for providing propulsion and energetics to the space, missile defense, strategic, tactical missile, and armaments sectors. The company recently partnered with NASA and successfully completed a series of hot-fire tests on a liquid-oxygen/gaseous hydrogen rocket injector assembly that was built using additive manufacturing technology.

Task lead Tyler Hickman (red shirt) and technicians inspect the rocket injector assembly as it’s installed in the Rocket Combustion Laboratory at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, OH. (Image Credit: NASA Glenn Research Center)Watch: Hydrogen Rocket Injector Fires, Built with Non-Traditional Tech

This testing, in cooperation with the Cleveland, OH-based NASA Glenn Research Center (NASA-GRC) under a Space Act Agreement, was a key step in the development and certification of the integrated manufacturing process, analysis and design tool, and component technologies required to implement Selective Laser Melting (SLM) for highly critical rocket engine components.

SLM employs high-powered laser beams to melt and fuse fine metallic powders into three dimensional structures. The industry standard term, chosen by the ASTM F42 standards committee, remains laser sintering, although this is acknowledged as a misnomer because the process fully melts the metal into a solid homogeneous mass.

According to Jeff Haynes, program manager of additive manufacturing at AR, the project combined new additive design and analysis tools, as well as manufacturing processes, to make a component with legacy engine performance characteristics, paving the road to implement these technologies in legacy engine products.

"This is a significant advancement in the application of additive manufacturing to rocket engines,” adds Haynes. “Additive manufacturing has the ability to produce complex parts at a fraction of the time and cost — if applied through a rigorous risk-based process. Today, we have the results of a fully additive manufactured rocket injector with a demonstration in a relevant environment."

This space technology demonstration may lead to more efficient manufacturing of rocket engines, saving American companies time and money.

The hot-fire test required significant material design data development from the SLM process to ensure adequate safety and reliability. The injector, designed by AR engineers, reduced the manufacturing lead time from more than a year to just a few months. The result is a potential cost savings of more than 70 percent compared to traditional manufacturing processes.

"NASA recognizes that on Earth and potentially in space, additive manufacturing can be game-changing for new mission opportunities, significantly reducing production time and cost by 'printing' tools, engine parts or even entire spacecraft," says Michael Gazarik, NASA's associate administrator for space technology in Washington. "3D manufacturing offers opportunities to optimize the fit, form, and delivery systems of materials that will enable our space missions while directly benefiting American businesses here on Earth."

The project is supported by the Game Changing Technology Program in NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate, which is innovating, developing, testing and flying hardware for use in NASA's future missions.

The next steps in the technology’s adoption include the generation of scale-up and establishing production requirements.

Aerojet Rocketdyne is a GenCorp (NYSE:GY) company.

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