Aerojet Rocketdyne, Sacremento, California, USA, has successfully hot-fire tested a full-scale additively manufactured thrust chamber assembly for the RL10 rocket engine. The thrust chamber was built from a copper alloy using Selective Laser Melting (SLM) technology.
The successful test follows a decade of metal AM development by Aerojet Rocketdyne, which has sought to develop Additive Manufacturing methods for the RL10 and other propulsion systems to make them more affordable while taking advantage of the design and performance capabilities that AM makes possible.
The additively manufactured RL10 thrust chamber will replace the current RL10C-1 model design, the company stated. The RL10C-1 uses a complex array of drawn, hydroformed stainless steel tubes that are brazed together to form a thrust chamber. The new chamber design is made up of only two primary copper parts and reportedly takes just under a month to print using SLM technology, reducing overall lead time by several months. The part count reduction is also significant as it reduces complexity and cost when compared with traditionally manufactured RL10 thrust chambers.
“Aerojet Rocketdyne has made several major upgrades to the RL10 to enhance the engine’s performance and affordability since it first entered service in the early 1960s,” stated Eileen Drake, Aerojet Rocketdyne CEO and President. “Incorporating Additive Manufacturing into the RL10 is the next logical step as we look to make the engine even more affordable for our customers.”
“We believe this is the largest copper-alloy thrust chamber ever built with 3-D printing and successfully tested,” added Jeff Haynes, Aerojet Rocketdyne’s Additive Manufacturing Program Manager. “Producing aerospace-quality components with Additive Manufacturing is challenging. Producing them with a high-thermal-conductivity copper alloy using SLM technology is even more difficult. Infusing this technology into full-scale rocket engines is truly transformative as it opens up new design possibilities for our engineers and paves the way for a new generation of low-cost rocket engines.”
Another key benefit provided by Additive Manufacturing, the company has stated, is the ability to design and build advanced features that allow for improved heat transfer. For many rocket engine applications, this enhanced heat transfer capability enables a more compact and lighter engine, which is highly desirable in space launch applications.
“This full-scale RL10 thrust chamber test series further proves that Additive Manufacturing technology will enable us to continue to deliver high performance and reliability while substantially reducing component production costs,” explained RL10 Program Director Christine Cooley. “Now that we have validated our approach with full-scale testing of a 3-D printed injector and copper thrust chamber, we are positioned to qualify a new generation of RL10 engines.”
Aerojet Rocketdyne is applying AM technology to many of its other products, including the RS-25 engines intended for deep space exploration and the company’s new AR1 booster engine.