Washington State University researchers Amit Bandyopadhyay and Susmita Bose (the brains behind the 3D printed tools made out of moon rocks) have been asked by Aerojet to collaborate on a new project. This time Aerojet wants them to produce 3D printed short-run parts for a miniature research satellite that houses the world's smallest liquid rocket engine.
The satellite, which is no bigger than a coffee cup, requires metal and ceramic parts that Aerojet believes can be created using WSU's 3D printers. "We believe that additive manufacturing could mean lower cost parts due to no tooling, no set up and little rejected material. This could shorten our schedules for small quantity parts," said Christian Carpenter, program manager at Aerojet.
Before the parts can go into the satellite they are going to have to be thoroughly tested. "You can imagine that you want to print an airplane structure, but you have to prove that it's good," Carpenter said. "The pieces have to work every time – and many of them for long periods."
The parts are still in the design phase right now and testing is not slated until sometime in the future. Regardless of the outcome, Aerojet believes the research is worth investment. "Whether the project successfully produces parts or not, we're going to learn something valuable," Carpenter said. "I have no doubt that we're going to find an application for this manufacturing process that provides significant benefit."
Aerojet isn't the only company trying to figure out the best way to test 3D printed parts. NASA just tested a 3D printed rocket injector and it passed with flying colors. They are also taking the 3D-printing-with-moon-rocks concept to the extreme and working with the ESA to make 3D printed buildings on the moon.