3D printing rocket parts have survived multiple test firings at NASA

One of NASA's main goals is to develop technology that makes it cheaper and quicker to design and build components for rockets both on Earth and in space or on other celestial bodies. NASA has particularly focused on using 3D printing to develop engine parts for rockets to help bring down overall manufacturing costs and make production faster. In November, a series of hot-fire tests were performed where NASA demonstrated a pair of additively manufactured engine components.The components include a copper alloy combustion chamber and a nozzle made of a high-strength hydrogen resistant alloy. They can withstand the extreme combustion environments that are typically experienced by traditionally manufactured metal structures during flight. NASA scientist Tom Teasley says that the 3D printing technology is a "game-changer" when it comes to reducing hardware manufacturing time and cost.

Teasley says the hot-fire tests are a critical step in getting the 3D-printed hardware ready for future Moon and Mars missions. NASA researchers performed 23 hot-fire tests with a total duration of over 280 seconds over ten days. Engineers collected data, including pressure and temperature measurements in hardware cooling channels and the main chamber.

High-speed and high-resolution video of the exhaust plume and chamber throat were also recorded. The 3D printed nozzle used a method called laser powder directed energy deposition and is made from a high-strength iron-nickel super alloy. The process deposits and melts the metal powder locally, creating free-form structures.

NASA says the technique allows engineers to manufacture small and large-scale components. NASA has the ultimate goal of enabling 3D printed parts and other hardware made using additive manufacturing to be used on future lunar landers. Having the technology aboard a lunar lander would allow astronauts to print any replacement parts required.