World’s First Entirely FDM Printed Rocket Engine
3D Prototech partnered up with a team of students at University of California, San Diego to develop an idea. An idea to create the world’s first entirely 3D Hybrid Rocket Engine. Utilizing our 3D Printing know-how, we were able to compliment the aerospace knowledge of UCSD Undergrads in their quest to make a mark on the Space and 3D Printing Industries. Through customized infill patterns and design for off-the-platform functionality, we were able to go from CAD Model to test in under 24 hours. Check out the Video Below:
Steve Guerin, a ProtoTech Engineer who worked on the project with the UCSD student, met up with the project lead Nicholas Garrett and asked him a few question about the project and its relevance to additive manufacturing and the space industry.
Steve: tell me about the inspiration this project, how did you guys get started?
Nick: Well that’s a funny question because a lot of people ask us that. I think really what it is, and I don’t know what you’ve heard, but there is a 3D Printer on the International Space Station. Have you heard of this?
Nick: Excellent, we heard about that and we said “that’s really cool” and just imagine what you could with that technology. Soon it’s going to be 3D Printers in space and full manufacturing up there. So we thought, well we love rockets, so why not design a 3d printed rocket engine that could be printed in Space up there right now… So we did it!
Steve: What kind of rockets where these?
Nick: It’s a hybrid.
Steve: What’s a hybrid?
Nick: I was hoping you would ask! A hybrid rocket engine is one of three types of rocket engines. There is solid, hybrid, and there is liquid. Now liquid engines use liquid fuel and liquid oxidizer in their combustion. There is is solid, which only uses fuel and oxidizer mixed into solid piece.
Steve: So you just spark it and it goes?
Nick: you just spark it and it goes! Theres no stopping those bad boys. But the hybrid is a mix of both. We have a solid fuel with a gaseous or liquid oxidizer. SO in our case, ABS plastic is our fuel, which is the entire rocket body. And then Gaseous Oxygen is our oxidizer.
Steve: Are these traditionally designed hybrids?
Nick: Whats nice about 3D Printing is that there are some limits as well as some flexibility. Flexibility in how traditionally manufactured engines have to have very specific pieces to account for the change in geometry, where as 3D printed rocket engines, we can just print. However, we are limited to our build orientation and how it prints over negative space and overhangs.
Steve: So you printed this in one piece?
Nick: That’s correct! 100% one piece , all ABS Plastic from the bottom to the top.
Steve: So what are some of the applications of these small plastic rocket motors? Or was this a display of technology?
Nick: There are applications, maybe not for our design specifically. I think what we were trying to go for was a proof of concept. But ultimately applications would look like attitude control, keeping satellites at the altitude they are at. Also could be used for repairing, so imagine, just take the ISS right now, they have that arm, imagine that arm grabbed a satellite that needed another engine on it to keep it up. You could use that, print it on the ISS put it on, repair it. And suddenly you have a repair station in space with a printer on it.
Steve: What’s next in the pipeline for you guys?
Nick: Right now we are working on preparing our presentation for the summer. We are going to a conference, the AIAA Propulsions and Energy conference. We are looking forward to presenting there, but after that really it would be to modify our engines to either have the minimal amount of material possible while trying to obtain the same amount of thrust, or trying to increase thrust by changing shape and geometry, geometries that are not normally used in the traditional manufacturing processes.
For more information on the project be sure to Launch Tank @ UCSD to see what other projects they have in the pipe.
The Team at 3D ProtoTech