WASHINGTON, Aug. 27 (Xinhua) -- U.S. space agency NASA said Tuesday it has successfully conducted a hot-fire test on the largest 3D printed rocket engine component it ever has.
The Aug. 22 test, which generated a record 20,000 pounds (about 9 tons) of thrust, is "a milestone" for one of many important advances the agency is making to reduce the cost of space hardware, NASA said.
The component tested during the engine firing is an injector that delivers propellants to power an engine. During the test, liquid oxygen and gaseous hydrogen passed through the component into a combustion chamber and produced 10 times more thrust than any injector previously fabricated using 3D printing, NASA said.
Early data from the test indicated that the injector "worked flawlessly" at pressures up to 1,400 pounds per square inch (about 984,300 kilograms per square meter) and at almost 6,000 degrees Fahrenheit (about 3,316 degrees Celsius), the space agency said.
"This successful test of a 3D printed rocket injector brings NASA significantly closer to proving this innovative technology can be used to reduce the cost of flight hardware," said Chris Singer, director of the Engineering Directorate at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, in a statement.
NASA said it used a method called selective laser melting to build up layers of nickel-chromium alloy powder to make the injector with 28 elements for channeling and mixing propellants.
The part was about the size of small rocket engine injectors but its design was similar to large engine injectors, such as the RS-25 engine that will power NASA's Space Launch System rocket for deep space human missions to an asteroid and Mars, it said.
This injector had only two parts, whereas a similar injector tested earlier had 115 parts. Fewer parts require less assembly effort, which means complex parts made with 3D printing have the potential for significant cost savings, the agency said.
NASA said it seeks to advance technologies such as 3D printing to make every aspect of space exploration more cost-effective.
Currently, NASA and private companies are working to develop and test a 3D printer that will soon print tools for the crew of the International Space Station. NASA is even exploring the possibility of printing food for long-duration space missions.