Fraunhofer IWS and TU Dresden scientists have successfully 3D printed a rocket engine with an aerospike nozzle for microlaunchers.
Microlaunchers are an alternative to conventional launch vehicles. Able to carry payloads of up to 350 kilograms, these midsized transport systems are designed to launch small satellites into space.
According to the IWS and TU Dresden teams, the additively manufactured, scaled metal prototype is expected to consume 30% less fuel than conventional engines.
Developed, manufactured and tested over the past two years, the engine was made possible thanks to funding from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).
What sets this aerospike engine apart from others is that its fuel injector, combustion chamber and nozzle are printed layer by layer in an AM process called Laser Powder Bed Fusion (L-PBF).
According to the scientists, the nozzle consists of a spike-like center-body that’s been designed to accelerate combustion gases.
“The technology behind aerospike engines dates back to the 1960s. But our ability to produce engines as efficient as this is owed to the freedom brought by additive manufacturing and its embedding in conventional process chains,” says Michael Müller of the Additive Manufacturing Center Dresden (AMCD).
AMCD is jointly operated by Fraunhofer IWS and TU Dresden.
Aerospike rocket engines promise fuel savings of around 30% over conventional rockets.
They are capable of adapting to the changing pressure on the trip from Earth to orbit, and are also more compact than conventional systems, which reduces the overall system’s mass.
“We opted for an additive way of manufacturing the metal rocket because the engine requires very good cooling and needs internal cooling channels, says Mirco Riede, group manager 3D manufacturing at Fraunhofer IWS.
“This complex regenerative cooling system with labyrinthine internal ducts cannot be milled or cast in conventional ways.”
Scientists at Fraunhofer IWS and TU Dresden are looking to the injection system in a bid to further boost engine efficiency.
Called CFDμSAT, this project has been underway since January 2020 with the Ariane Group and Siemens AG taking part as associated partners.
Image and content: Fraunhofer IWS