World’s first 3D-printed rocket passes baptism of fire

18 Jun 2015

The 3D-printed rocket developed by the European Space Agency and Airbus Defence & Space. Image via Airbus Defence & Space

The world’s first spacecraft thruster to contain a platinum combustion chamber and nozzle made by 3D printing has passed its baptism of fire with 618 ignitions, and a series of firings lasting more than an hour.

The successful testing of a 3D-printed rocket marks yet another important step in bringing the cost of production of space equipment down for future missions, following on from news last year that the International Space Station (ISS) now has a 3D printer on board to produce components.

The combustion chamber for the 10 N hydrazine thruster was printed in platinum–rhodium alloy, using a laser beam applied to a metal powder bed.

Much of the operation was run from Germany, where the actual prototype thruster was produced and tested at the Airbus Defence & Space facility in Lampoldshausen, through a European Space Agency (ESA) project called Additive Manufacturing Technologies for Advanced Satellite Thrust Chamber (AMTAC).

Click on the photo below to watch the test video.

3D printed rocket test

This is a world first,” said Steffen Beyer of Airbus Defence & Space, who is managing the project. “The firings included a single burn of 32 minutes, during which a maximum throat temperature of 1253 degrees Celsius was attained.

“It demonstrates that performance comparable to a conventional thruster can be obtained through 3D printing.”

Adding to this sentiment, Mikko Nikulainen, head of ESA’s Component Technology and Space Materials Division, said: “The potential of 3D printing makes it an important element of our new advanced manufacturing initiative, which focuses on a range of technologies to slash European manufacturing costs and lead times while improving performance and boosting competitiveness.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic