A group of engineering students at the University of California, San Diego tested a 3D-printed rocket engine made out of laser sintered metal at the Friends of Amateur Rocketry testing site in the Mojave Desert.
To build the engine, students used a proprietary design that they developed. The engine was primarily financed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama and was printed by Illinois-based GPI Prototype and Manufacturing Services using direct metal laser sintering. This is the first time a university has produced a 3D printed liquid fueled metal rocket engine, according to the students, who are members of the UC San Diego chapter of Students for the Exploration and Development of Space.
“We’ve all been working so hard, putting countless hours to ensure that it all works,” said Deepak Atyam, the organization’s president. “If all goes well, we would be the first entity outside of NASA to have tested a liquid fueled rocket motor in its entirety. We hope to see all of our hard work come to fruition.”
The engine was designed to power the third stage of a rocket carrying several NanoSat-style satellites with a mass of less than a few pounds each. The engine is about 6 to 7 inches long and weighs about 10 lbs. It is designed to generate 200 lbs of thrust and is made of cobalt and chromium, a high-grade alloy. It runs on kerosene and liquid oxygen and cost $6,800 to manufacture, including $5,000 from NASA. The rest was raised by students through barbeque sales and other student-run fundraisers.
A 3D printed metal rocket engine would dramatically cut costs for launches, said Forman Williams, a professor of aerospace engineering at the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego, who is the students’ advisor. Williams admits that he was skeptical at first as the design of liquid-propellant rockets is very complex and detailed, but the students surprised him.
For more information, visit: seds.ucsd.edu