NASA collaborated with small-satellite launch services provider Virgin Orbit to produce a rocket combustion chamber using the additive manufacturing method.
The partnership created a full-scale, 3D-printed rocket engine component with the use of GRCop-84, an additive copper alloy developed in 2014 at the Marshall Space Flight Center and Glenn Research Center, NASA said Friday.
The company used hybrid additive and subtractive machinery in efforts to incorporate another bimetallic super-alloy jacket into the thrust chamber and refine the part. Engineers then test-fired the enclosed structure at the Marshall facility with the aid of high-pressure propellants powered by liquid oxygen and kerosene.
The component generated over 2K pounds of thrust in nearly 24 one-minute test firings.
“The combination of multiple optimized materials and additive manufacturing technologies we’ve employed represents a significant advancement from the compromises typically made in the production of 3D printed rocket engine combustion chambers,” said Kevin Zagorski, manager of propulsion advanced manufacturing at Virgin Orbit.
“Information gained from our partnership with NASA will be key in applying these technologies to further improve cost, performance and lead time of Virgin Orbit’s propulsion systems for the LauncherOne vehicle."