The words “plastic” and “fire-blasting rocket” don’t typically go together, but that didn’t stop MIT from pulling off the seemingly impossible. The MIT Rocket Team recently demonstrated the successful use of a rocket motor that was 3D printed from plastic, the first time this has ever been accomplished. The successful test was performed at about noon on April 21, and was the culmination of two weeks of parts’ design and printing.
A total of two firing tests were performed, though the rocket was only designed to be used a single time. The first test was successful in the traditional sense, but the second test was a lot more fun to watch. The researchers explain that they used a ‘more energetic’ propellent the second time around, which led to the bright blue blast of fire shown above.
The first time, though, the team used a less energetic propellant that resulted in the narrow orange beam of fire shown in the video. This propellant was used for multiple reasons: it produces less heat, a lesser amount of pressure, and it was overall more gentle on the motor case, relatively speaking. Unfortunately, the second test wasn’t shown on video.
As with any proper degree of curiosity, the team fired up the second test just to ‘see what would happen.’ The rocket had some ‘damage’ from the first test, including a worn throat, and as a result the second test was unable to maintain a supersonic flow. This meant there wasn’t much thrust produced the second time around, and that the combustion was unstable. However, the team said it ‘looks really cool in 240 fps slow motion!’
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen rocket parts made using 3D printing technology. However, in past instances such as NASA’s own efforts, this printing was performed using metals, not plastic. Even more interesting, the MIT team says they used a low-cost 3D printer that would be more suitable for the kind of budgets that small teams and hobbyists have. This means that, perhaps, we’ll one day see amateur rocket enthusiasts launching their own mini rockets.