NASA and Aerojet Rocketdyne have teamed up to create and test a 3D printed rocket engine injector. They produced the injector through a 3D printing process known as selective laser sintering (SLS). During SLS, laser beams melt fine metallic powders and fuse them together into three dimensional shapes.

"Rocket engine components are complex machined pieces that require significant labor and time to produce. The injector is one of the most expensive components of an engine," said Tyler Hickman, who led the testing at NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland.

Traditionally the type of injector Aerojet created would take more than a year to manufacture. Thanks to additive manufacturing, it took just under four months and cost 70% less to produce.

"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 in Washington.

The rocket engine injector was put through its paces at Glenn Research center and it passed with flying colors. Now that additive manufacturing has proven to be a reliable way for NASA to manufacture rocket engine injectors, they are ramping up to produce even more 3D printed parts.

"These successful tests let us know that we are ready to move on to demonstrate the feasibility of developing full-size, additively manufactured parts," said Carol Tolbert, manager of the Manufacturing Innovation Project at Glenn.

NASA is also exploring the use of additive manufacturing to produce lunar habitats, print food in space and even create satellites in zero-gravity.