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Watch a 3D printed rocket engine fire up for the first time

24 April 2019

Aerojet Rocketdyne completed initial testing of its next generation RL10C-X upper-stage rocket engine that contains major components produced with 3D printing.

An Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10C-X prototype engine, which includes 3-D printed core components, undergoes hot-fire testing at Aerojet Rocketdyne’s facility in West Palm Beach, Florida (Credit: Aerojet Rocketdyne)

The successful series of tests confirmed that the 3D printed components performed as expected when integrated into a complete, full-scale engine system.

"We’ve made steady progress incorporating game-changing 3D printing technology into our production engine programs to make them more affordable,” said Aerojet Rocketdyne CEO and President Eileen Drake. “By producing these components with 3D printing, we expect to reduce lead time by 35-50%, and overall engine cost by 25-35%.”

The initial round of testing included hot firing the RL10C-X prototype engine three times the duration of a typical RL10 mission, including high mixture ratio operation and multiple engine restarts. The 3D printed engine components and the entire engine system remain in excellent condition with significant life remaining.

Aerojet Rocketdyne has been working over the past two decades to develop 3D printing technology, also known as additive manufacturing, to a point where components built using the technology can reliably withstand the extreme operating environment of a rocket engine that experiences high pressures and temperature gradients that range from -423°F to more than 5,000°F.

The 3D printed components that were tested in the RL10C-X prototype make up the very core of the engine: the injector and the thrust chamber. The injector mixes the liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellants and delivers them to the thrust chamber where they are burned, creating hot gases that produce thrust as they exit the engine. These components were selected because they offer the greatest cost reduction potential while delivering excellent performance and reliability.


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