NASA is starting off the new year by testing a brand new combustion chamber for the development of their 3D printed engine. They will be ending 2016 with a fiery blast, in hopes of a successful step forward. NASA has been hard at work on putting together a complete 3D printed engine for years now and every new component brings them closer to perfecting this revolutionary technology.
The combustion chamber that was recently tested wasn’t 3D printed. Although it was necessary to move the project forward in the right direction from previous tests. During the old trials an ablative combustion chamber was used that only allowed for a 10 second firing time. This is mainly due to erosion that would occur which in turn would change the internal pressure of the device. In the latest test NASA had switched to a regeneratively cooled chamber, which can be fired for a longer period of time.
Capable of being fired for over 30 seconds this new chamber is giving engineer’s greater insight into the combustion chamber’s potential. Most importantly it gives them a look at how the 3D printed parts hold up during a long duration burn. Even though the combustion chamber itself was not 3D printed, critical components inside of the test engine were, including the fuel injector, fuel turbo pump, valves and more.
The next step according to NASA is adding the 3D printed version of the oxidizer turbo pump. This part is being made in collaboration with NASA Space Technology Mission Directorate’s Game Changing Development program, which is also giving funds toward development of a 3D printed combustion chamber. NASA believes that they will be able to test this new chamber in the summer of next year and take another giant step toward finishing development.
NASA has no plans on sending the demonstrator engine to space but once testing is completed it will prove that 3D printed components are a viable option. The engineers over at NASA are even working on completing tests with different propellant combinations, two of these being oxygen and methane. These are being considered because of the ability to produce them on Mars and bring humankind even closer to setting foot on the red planet.
NASA’s continued success with this new engine and its various parts is proving that additive manufacturing is shaping up to be the future of the industry. It is hard to remember that 3D printing technology is still very young and there are still many advancements to make. The development of this engine is an amazing thing to watch and it will be exciting to see the next big step.
If you’re interested in seeing the latest test in action, check out the video below: