Cost for prototype: $6,800
The mission: To boldly go where no man has gone before… on the cheap.
A group of University of California San Diego students have built a working, 7 inch-long rocket engine using a 3D printer.
The group recently test fired the metallic engine fueled by kerosene and liquid oxygen.
NASA we have lift off.
Well OK, not exactly lift off. The engine was attached to a pole secured to the ground, but the point is, the engine fired, creating 200 pounds of thrust.
That's strong enough to keep 200 pounds suspended in mid-air. That may not sound like a lot, but the engine is only 7 inches long.
The engine was designed to get a miniature satellite, weighing about 3 pounds, into orbit.
The entire project, from design to test fire, took about eight months and cost about $6,800.
"This method of constructing rocket engines opens possibilities for a whole new level of design with relatively few constraints, when compared to conventional methods of fabrication," the student engineers posted on the UCSD Chapter of Students for the Exploration and Development of Space Web site. "Using additive manufacturing technology to print whole rocket engines greatly benefits the aerospace industry by cutting development costs to a fraction of what is associated with conventional manufacturing methods."
Up until the test fire, 3D printing had only been used to print individual parts for rocket engines.
Forman Williams, a professor in combustion research at UCSD who advised the group of students, was skeptical about the project, until he saw the first… well… rocket's red glare shooting out beneath the prototype.
"These things are very intricate to design and very prone to combustion instability. They require a very fine tolerance," Forman told the San Diego Union-Tribune. "They were able to design it and test it successfully with this 3-D printing approach, which is kind of amazing."
And while we may not have been able to announce, "we have lift off," NASA was involved. The students worked with NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center throughout the program.