Rocket Engine With 3D Print Launched By University Students

First Posted: May 27, 2016 04:10 AM EDT

Students from the University of California San Diego (UCSD) recently launched a rocket, complete with a 3D printed engine. According to reports, the students are reportedly the first university group to achieve such a feat.

The university students from UCSD's Jacob School of Engineering, who are part of Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS), built the metal rocket engine using a technique previously known only to NASA. Earlier, the students carried out a hot fire test for the rocket engine at the launch site of Friends of Amateur Rocketry in California's Mojave Desert.

The test was reportedly the first of its kind for a 3D printed and liquid fueled metal rocket engine by university students, which furthermore was printed and designed outside of NASA. However, the space agency's Marshall Space Flight Center cooperated with the students to develop the Tri-D, as the rocket engine is called, to view the practicality of printed rocket components. The main contribution by the students was designing the injector plate, which is one of the key parts used for injecting fuel into the combustion chamber. The rocket engine was developed to propel the third stage of a Nanosat launcher, which is capable of launching satellites that weigh less than 1.33 kilograms.

Tri-D, measuring 17.7 centimeters in length and 4.5 kilograms in weight, burns liquid oxygen and kerosene to create about 90.7 kilograms of thrust. The rocket is made of chromium cobalt alloy, and a regenerative cooling jacket which goes till the nozzle keeps the engine cool while firing. The 3D print on the engine was carried out using a technique called Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS). Incidentally, 3D laser printing is advantageous because it is faster and reasonable, and allows for more detailed designing for each component apart from having a greater tensile strength than castings.

"It was a resounding success and could be the next step in the development of cheaper propulsion systems and a commercializing of space," said Deepak Atyam, President of SEDS. The rocket engine was made with a sum of $6,800, in which $5,000 contributed by NASA and the rest of the amount was collected by the students through fun fundraisers like barbecue sales. 

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