Researchers at NASA, in partnership with Keystone Synergistic, are working on a trio of new additive and milling technologies in order to construct a 3D-printed rocket nozzle that has a simpler design and can still withstand extreme temperatures and pressures. The new process, called Laser Wire Direct Closeout, was successfully test fired for more than 1,040 seconds.
Current rocket nozzles are fabricated with many parts, making prototype builds slow and expensive. The new process is designed to allow engineers to produce a nozzle with fewer parts, quickly and cheaply.
NASA’s Laser Wire Direct Closeout approach advances on conventional powder-based metal printing, using directed energy beams to melt metal wires and directly depositing the molten metal in a similar way used in plastic 3D printing.
Using this in conjunction with an abrasive waterjet milling process and an arc-based deposition tech, NASA researchers were able to precisely close out the coolant channels inside the nozzle to form a support jacket and fabricate the liner to contain the water jet milled channels.
NASA says the motivation behind this technology was to develop a robust process that eliminates several steps in the traditional manufacturing process and will be licensed for commercial applications as a way to stimulate small businesses.