Watch NASA test a 3D-printed rocket engine made for deep space

Have you ever wondered what a spinning detonation rocket engine looks like?

It’s a very exciting time to be a space freak right now. Agencies around the world recently gathered to The most advanced telescope ever launched In orbit, promising startups Increasingly science fiction means to fly into orbit And NASA is working hard to put humans back on the moon. That mission took a step closer to reality recently, when the US space agency began testing the rocket that could get us there.

For the past few months, NASA has been testing an innovative new engine that produces more power than traditional rocket engines, while using less fuel. named Rotary detonation rocket engineThe new engine, or RDRE, could hold the key to the agency’s ambitions for deep space travel.

its rocket engines It stayed pretty much the same As long as there has been space travel. There’s a combustion chamber where the fuel is ignited, and a nozzle that directs the exhaust gases and energy in the opposite direction from wherever you need to go.

But RDRE, which It was first proposed in the fifties of the last century, it works completely differently. Instead of using combustion to burn fuel and change chemical energy into heat energy, RDRE uses detonation to speed up the transfer of energy without the need for oxygen to keep the fire burning.

A spinning detonation rocket engine test at Marshall Space Flight Center

This type of engine can also extract more energy from its fuel, and does not require a separate oxygen tank to support combustion in the vacuum of space. Aspects like these make this most powerful and efficient engine ideal for long space missions.

But RDRE engines are tough to build, and scientists around the world have been improving this type of engine for space travel (and even high-speed air travel) for decades. Now, NASA has successfully tested its RDRE, which could one day lead us to the Moon and into space.

The test saw NASA engineers mount a prototype engine on a stand at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. There, the engine was fired “more than a dozen times, totaling nearly 10 minutes in duration,” NASA said in a press release.

From the sounds, the test was successful. to me NASA versionEngineers found that the prototype engine “could operate for extended periods while withstanding the extreme heat and pressure environments generated by detonation.”

While turning 11, the RDRE prototype produced over 4,000 pounds of thrust for about a minute. The pressure inside the engine also reached 622 psi, which NASA says is the “highest pressure rating ever for this design.” Impressive stuff.

Image of NASA's Artemis spacecraft prior to launch.

The new engine could revolutionize space travel.
picture: Paul Hennessy / Anadolu Agency (Getty Images)

But while all of these performance numbers sound impressive and impressive, perhaps the most amazing thing about this prototype is how it was made. NASA made the whole thing using New Additive Manufacturing, which is a Fantastic way of saying 3D printing. This means that one day, we can repair and replace parts for an engine like this anywhere a 3D printer is accessible — including on a space station.

The next step in the process of proving the usability of a 3D-printed rocket engine will be scalability. NASA says it will take everything it learned from these tests to develop a “fully reusable 10,000-pound class RDRE” to reveal any benefits over a conventional rocket engine.

This would be a step in the right direction, however, given the fact that they are the most powerful engines out there today Ejected over 200,000 pounds of thrustthere is still a way to go yet.

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