A 3D-printed rocket engine is being tested in an effort to break the endurance record for such systems. The propulsion system is designed to power small sounding rockets and potentially reduce the cost of sending satellites into space.
The UC San Diego Chapter of Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS) developed the engine. With the success of the first test-firing, the engine will be fitted to a rocket before the system is sent to the Experimental Sounding Rocket Association's Intercollegiate Engineering Rocket Competition, to be held June 25-27.
"We're going to break the world record for the longest flight of a 3D-printed rocket engine. We're aiming for our rocket to fly 10,000 feet in the air. We all watched the first record being set a few weekends ago — the first 3D-printed rocket engine went 60 feet in the air," Darren Charrier from the University of California San Diego said.
The Vulcan 1 engine was developed as the second model designed by the student group, following their successful testing of the early Tri-D engine.
The hotfire test carried out on the Vulcan 1 engine lasted just five seconds. The 3D-printed engine weighs just around 10 pounds and stretches just 10 inches in length. The propulsion system, crafted from alloy materials, delivers roughly 750 pounds of thrust. Refilling tanks of the rocket engine takes approximately 2.5 hours.
A 3D printing company in Chicago, GPI Prototypes, sponsored the development of the test engine. The Marshal Flight Space Center, operated by NASA, supplied funding for the test stand used during the run.
"This method of constructing rocket engines opens possibilities for a whole new level of design with relatively few constraints, when compared to conventional methods of fabrication. Using additive manufacturing technology to print whole rocket engines greatly benefits the aerospace industry by cutting development costs to a fraction of what is associated with conventional manufacturing methods," Candice Nunez wrote for Qgits.
The Friends of Amateur Rocketry (FAR) operates a 10-acre property in the Mojave Desert where the test was carried out.
"Once the engine was cleaned and calibrated, we needed an ignition source. The igniter itself is a small amount of solid rocket fuel at the end of a stick, and it catches fire when introduced to an electrical charge. Unfortunately, the first test failed because of operational errors," Charrier told the press.
Although the first two attempts to ignite the engine failed, the third, carried out on June 13, worked perfectly.