NASA Successfully Tests First 3-D Printed Rocket Engine Injector

Another step toward the day when 3-D printers spit out entire spacecraft.

We’ve seen 3-D printed aircraft and drone parts, and even plans for a printable private jet. Now NASA has demonstrated another 3-D printing first: The agency has just finished successful tests of a 3-D printed rocket engine injector at the Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, marking one of the first steps in using additive manufacturing for space travel.

In conjunction with rocket manufacturer Aerojet Rocketdyne, NASA built the liquid-oxygen and gaseous-hydrogen rocket injector assembly using laser melting manufacturing. This sci-fi-sounding technique involves melting metallic powders down with high-powered laser beams, then fusing them into shape. Previous manufacturing methods for these type of injectors required more than a year. Being able to 3-D print the parts reduces the time frame to four months, at a 70 percent price reduction.

Installation In The Rocket Combustion Laboratory
Installation In The Rocket Combustion Laboratory NASA Glenn Research Center

Eventually, 3-D printing is likely become a staple of the aerospace industry, as Davin Coburn describes in our July issue.

NASA has already expressed interest in putting 3-D printers in space, so astronauts could have easier access to spare parts and, most importantly, pizza.

Michael Gazarik, the associate administrator for space technology at NASA, even suggested entire spacecraft could one day be made with 3-D printing, calling it “game-changing for new mission opportunities.”