Washington: NASA has successfully tested the most complex rocket engine parts ever designed by the agency and printed with additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, on a test stand at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
Apart from helping engineers build and test a rocket injector with a unique design, additive manufacturing technique also enabled them to test faster and smarter, the US space agency said in a statement.
For making the parts, selective laser melting was used through which the designs are entered into the 3D computer's printer.
Each part was built by layering metal powder and then fused together with a laser.
"We wanted to go a step beyond just testing an injector and demonstrate how 3D printing could revolutionise rocket designs for increased system performance," said Chris Singer, director of Marshall Space Flight Center's engineering directorate.
"The parts performed exceptionally well during the tests," added Singer.
Whereas in the traditional manufacturing methods, 163 individual parts would be made and assembled, with 3D printing technology, only two parts were required, NASA said in a statement.
The additive manufacturing process allowed rocket designers to create an injector with 40 individual elements, all printed as a single component rather than manufactured individually.
The rocket engine parts will power NASA's under production Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, the heavy-lift, exploration class rocket that will take humans beyond Earth orbit and to Mars.
"One of our goals is to collaborate with a variety of companies and establish standards for this new manufacturing process," explained Jason Turpin, Marshall propulsion engineer.