Aerojet Rocketdyne, based in Sacramento, California, USA, has received a $6 million contract from the U.S. Air Force to define the standards that will be used to qualify additively manufactured components for use in liquid-fuelled rocket engine applications.
The award is part of the U.S. Air Force Booster Propulsion Technology Maturation Broad Agency Announcement, which is part of a comprehensive Air Force plan to transition off the Russian-made RD-180 engines currently used on the Atlas V launch vehicle.
“New liquid rocket engine designs, like the AR1 engine we are building to replace the Russian-made RD-180, are increasingly taking advantage of 3-D printing technology because it reduces the amount of time and money required to build these complex components,” stated Julie Van Kleeck, Vice President of Advanced Space & Launch Programs at Aerojet Rocketdyne. “It is imperative that engine manufacturers understand the qualification methodology for this revolutionary technology because of the criticality of the assets they help launch into space.”
The use of Additive Manufacturing technology reduces the cost to produce components, shortens build times and provides flexibility to engineers to design components that were once impossible to build using traditional manufacturing techniques. This program will define the rigorous engineering and inspection processes to be followed when producing and testing 3-D printed components to assure that they meet the stringent requirements of aerospace systems.
Aerojet Rocketdyne has a long history of developing new materials and manufacturing processes that support complex engine designs. In 2014 the company successfully hot-fire tested an engine made entirely by Additive Manufacturing that had a thrust of 5,000 pounds and in 2015 the company used Additive Manufacturing to replicate the injector of the gas generator used on the Apollo-era F-1 rocket engine to demonstrate that a proven design can be built at a competitive cost without sacrificing performance.
“We are taking our seven decades of experience in building rocket engines, which represents more than 2,100 successful launches, and combining that with our in-depth knowledge of Additive Manufacturing to assist the Air Force in defining qualification requirements for this technology,” stated Dr Jay Littles, Director of Advanced Launch Vehicle Propulsion at Aerojet Rocketdyne. “In fact, Fast Company magazine named Aerojet Rocketdyne No. 1 in its ranking of ‘The World’s Top 10 Most Innovative Companies of 2015 in Space,’ because of the company’s advances in Additive Manufacturing.”
“Incorporating Additive Manufacturing and the new qualification processes into our AR1 design will be essential to having an American engine for the Atlas V and proposed Vulcan launch vehicles ready by 2019,” added Van Kleeck.