WASHINGTON, D.C., July 15, 2013 — Without stating the seemingly obvious, 3-D printing has come from nowhere. In the space of a few short months, the decades-old engineering resource has appeared to have gone from being a well-kept secret to headline news, with innovative and progressive uses of the additive manufacturing process gaining widespread attention.
Of course, in terms of engineering research and development, 3-D printing is less about being the new kid on the block and more about showcasing its longstanding potential, especially when considering where the technology is likely to be used in the future. According to the BBC, the recent announcement by General Electric that it would be making fuel nozzles for jet engines made some in the aviation industry sit up and take notice, but NASA is already well on the way to sending 3-D printed parts into space.
The agency has made no secret of how important the technique will be, especially when considering the implications of deep-space exploration, but there have been some questions raised about how any 3-D printed engine parts would perform under pressure. While the proposed Space Launch System is believed to have an extensive compliment of components created though additive manufacturing techniques, NASA has, to date, been keeping many of them under wraps.
"NASA recognizes that on Earth and potentially in space, additive manufacturing can be game-changing for new mission opportunities, significantly reducing production time and cost by 'printing' tools, engine parts or even entire spacecraft," said Michael Gazarik, NASA's associate administrator for space technology, according to the news source.
With this in mind, a series of recent hot-fire tests on a liquid-oxygen/gaseous hydrogen rocket injector assembly has been seen as ensuring that agency enthusiasm for the technology remains unabated. Using an additive manufacturing method known as selective laser manufacturing, NASA was able to successfully test the engine part less than four months after being designed and printed by California-based Aerojet Rocketdyne, a process that would have taken almost a year using traditional manufacturing techniques and been significantly more expensive.
"This project combined new additive design / analysis tools and manufacturing processes to make a component with legacy engine performance characteristics, paving the road to implement these technologies in these engine products," said Jeff Haynes, program manager, Additive Manufacturing, Aerojet Rocketdyne, in a press statement. "This is a significant advancement in the application of additive manufacturing to rocket engines. Additive manufacturing has the ability to produce complex parts at a fraction of the time and cost, if applied through a rigorous risk-based process."
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