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3D printed rocket injector prepped for hot fire test

NASA's rocket injectors manufactured with traditional processes would take more than a year to make, but with these new 3D printing processes, the parts can be produced in less than four months, with a 70 percent reduction in cost.

Here, propulsion systems engineer Greg Barnett prepares a 3D printed rocket injector for a hot fire test at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., on August 22.

The 9.5-inch injector is about half the size of the injector for the RS-25 engine slated to power NASA's Space Launch System. It was made with just two pieces, whereas a similar injector made with traditional welding had 115 pieces.

Updated:Caption:Photo:NASA/MSFC/Emmett Given
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3D printed rocket part blazes to life

A 3D printed rocket part roars to life during a hot fire test on August 22. The engine firing generated a record 20,000 pounds of thrust. The test was designed to explore how well large rocket engine components withstand temperatures up to 6,000 degrees Fahrenheit and extreme pressures, typical of a rocket engine environment.

Updated:Caption:Photo:NASA/MSFC/NASA/David Olive
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3D printed rocket on test stand

Lead test engineer Ryan Wall, at right in orange shirt, prepares to hot fire test a 3D printed rocket part on Test Stand 115 at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

These tests are helping young engineers learn how to design, manufacture, and test rocket parts made with a new manufacturing process called 3D printing or additive manufacturing.

Updated:Caption:Photo:NASA/MSFC/Emmett Given
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3D printed rocket engine injector

Engineers made this one-piece rocket engine injector in just 40 hours in a sophisticated 3D printing machine at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center's advanced manufacturing facility.

It takes months to manufacture the same part using traditional welding methods. These images show an injector as it looked immediately after it was removed from the selected laser melting printer (left) and an injector after inspection and polishing (right).

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3D printer bound for International Space Station

'Made in Space' Deputy Program Manager Matthew Napoli examines a 3D printed piece at Marshall Space Flight Center.

The first 3D printer bound for space passed a series of critical microgravity tests at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, in June.

Made in Space, the space manufacturing company, conducted examinations of its proprietary 3D printer technology during four microgravity flights that lasted two hours each and simulated conditions found on the ISS.

The printer, as part of the 3D Print Experiment in coordination with NASA, is scheduled to arrive at the International Space Station (ISS) in 2014.

Updated:Caption:Photo:Made in Space
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70 percent reduction in cost

A Liquid oxygen/gaseous hydrogen rocket injector assembly built using 3D printing technology is hot fire tested at NASA Glenn Research Center’s Rocket Combustion Laboratory in Cleveland, Ohio, in June during earlier testing.

This type of injector manufactured with traditional processes would take more than a year to make, but with these new processes it can be produced in less than four months, with a 70 percent reduction in cost.

Updated:Caption:Photo:NASA Glenn Research Center
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Made In Space laboratory

At the Made In Space laboratory, CTO Jason Dunn displays one of the 3D printer test experiments. Made in Space has additive manufacturing devices that are approved for use aboard the International Space Station.

Updated:Caption:Photo:Made in Space
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Comparing performance

Propulsion engineer Sandra Greene (left) and test engineer Cynthia Sprader are seen here holding an injector during a series of test firings at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., in July.

The test allowed researchers to compare their performance to parts made the old-fashioned way with welds and multiple parts during planned subscale acoustic tests for the Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift rocket.

In little more than a month, Marshall engineers built two subscale injectors with a specialized 3D printing machine and completed 11 main-stage hot fire tests, accumulating 46 seconds of total firing time at temperatures nearing 6,000 degrees Fahrenheit while burning liquid oxygen and gaseous hydrogen.

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CT scan of 3D printed part

Before testing the 3D printed rocket injector, materials engineers at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center performed a computer tomography scan to ensure the part was fabricated according to the design.

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