3D printing finds new frontiers

The following article is based on my own interpretation of the said events. Any material borrowed from published and unpublished sources has been appropriately referenced. I will bear the sole responsibility for anything that is found to have been copied or misappropriated or misrepresented in the following post.

Sai Prasanth C, MBA 2015-17, Vinod Gupta School of Management, IIT Kharagpur

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3D printing, off late, has been the talk of the town. It has found a lot of new avenues and now it is the aero-science which is witnessing the wonders of 3D printing. NASA has successfully tested a 3D printed rocket engine fuel pump with liquid methane, an ideal propellant for engines needed to power spacecraft for future journey to Mars. “This is one of the most complex rocket parts NASA has ever tested with liquid methane, a propellant that would work well for fueling Mars lander and other spacecraft,” said Mary Beth Koelbl, manager of the Propulsion Systems Department at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in US.

A turbo pump is complex because it has turbines that spin fast to drive the pump, which supplies fuel to the engine. During the full power test, the turbines generated 600 horsepower and the fuel pump, got its “heartbeat” racing at more than 36,000 revolutions per minute delivering 600 gallons of semi-cryogenic liquid methane per minute enough to fuel an engine producing over 22,500 pounds of thrust. These tests along with manufacturing and testing of injectors and other rocket engine parts are paving the way for advancements in 3D printing of complex rocket engines and more efficient production of future spacecraft including methane-powered landers. Liquid methane is cooled to minus 159 degrees Celsius whereas liquid hydrogen is cooled to minus 240 degrees Celsius. The higher temperature of liquid methane means it boils off more slowly and thus is easier to store for longer periods, a benefit for Mars missions. Also, technologies exist today to make it possible to manufacture methane rocket fuel from carbon dioxide, which is plentiful in the red planet’s atmosphere. By demonstrating the same turbo pump can work with different fuels, it is shown that a common design would work for either engines fuelled by methane or hydrogen

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