NASA has announced that it has successfully tested a 3D printed part for a rocket engine. The technique called selective laser melting (SLM) was used and resulted in the part being produced quicker and cheaper.

The California based Aerojet Rocketdyne were able to make an injector component, a part that is used to deliver liquid oxygen and hydrogen gas to an engine’s combustion chamber.

NASA injector testing

Using the SLM method, a computer-designed object is turned into a real part  by using high-powered laser beams that melt and fuse thin layers of metallic powders into the designed shape.

According to NASA an injector component would normally take a year to make but by using this technique, they have been able to cut production time to less than four months and reduce the cost by more than 70 per cent.

The test part is not full scale, it is smaller than what would normally be used in a full-size rocket but it is still big enough to give proof that the part is able to withstand the pressure and heat it would be exposed to.

“Nasa recognises 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,” said Michael Gazarik, Nasa’s associate administrator for space technology.

The space agency are also exploring other techniques. It has asked researches at Washington University to explore the possibilites of producing 3D printed objects from lunar rocks.

It is also testing a process called electron beam freeform fabrication (EBF3), which uses a computer controlled electron beam gun in a vacuum that  then welds metal wires into complex shapes and patterns.

All these techniques are making steps towards NASA’s astronauts being able to produce spare parts in space, thus saving more time and money during space exploration.

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