3D-printed metal rocket engine tested in Mojave

Students associated with the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS) successfully conducted a hot fire test for a 3D-printed metal rocket engine this past weekend. Dubbed “Tri-D,” the rocket was put through its paces in the Mojave Desert.

“It was a resounding success,” said SEDS President Deepak Atyam. “[We think Tri-D] could be the next step in the development of cheaper propulsion systems and a commercializing of space.”

To build the engine, students used a proprietary design they developed. The engine was primarily financed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. and printed by the Illinois-based GPI Prototype and Manufacturing Services.

According to Atyam, the engine was designed to power the third stage of a rocket carrying several NanoSat-style satellites with a mass of less than a few pounds each.

As such, the engine measures approximately 6-7 inches in length and weighs about 10 lbs. Made of cobalt and chromium (a high-grade alloy), the rocket is designed to generate 200 lbs of thrust running on kerosene and liquid oxygen.

Tri-D cost about $6,800 to manufacture, $5,000 of which was contributed by NASA. The rest was raised via student-run fundraisers.

As we’ve previously discussed on Bits & Pieces, the meteoric rise of 3D printing has paved the way for a new generation of Internet entrepreneurs, Makers and do-it-yourself (DIY) manufacturers. So it comes as little surprise that the lucrative 3D printing industry is on track to be worth a staggering $3 billion by 2016.

Of course, the Maker Movement has been well acquainted with Atmel-powered 3D printers like MakerBot and RepRap for some time now. However, 3D printing recently entered a new and important stage in a number of spaces including the medical sphere, architectural arena, science lab and even on the battlefield.

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