3D Printed Rocket Engines Open Door to Space Entrepreneurs
A satellite launch can cost from $10 million to $50 million, but 3D print technology could see these costs plummet.
For a mere $4.9 million, New Zealand company Rocketlab can send a small satellite up into orbit. The engine the company uses is called the Rutherford and is powered by an electric motor. It’s the very first oxygen and hydrocarbon engine that uses 3D printed components. The Rutherford’s first test flights are due to commence this year and the company hopes to begin launching weekly commercial flights in the next 12 months.
The 3D printed engine can be produced in just three days, a fraction of the time that it would take to build a standard engine. This allows the company to produce a quality product in a fraction of the time and at a fraction of the cost to businesses. These advantages could open the doors for many smaller enterprises to join growth industries like TV services, broadband and street-mapping.
Rocketlab is not alone in using 3D printing to produce space rocket parts. NASA recently built its first full-size copper rocket engine part using a 3D printer. A spokesman said that NASA aims to build rocket parts for half the present cost and ten times more quickly. They aim to develop a process that would allow the industry to manufacture affordable rocket engines for a much wider market.
Copper is perfect for use in lining a combustion chamber as its heat conducting properties enable it with cope with extremes in temperature much better than most other metals. In addition, a 3D printed part is stronger and more fracture-resistant than a traditionally cast part. There’s also a lower variability in material properties and the parts can be produced in days rather than months, further cutting costs.
3D print technology has made its mark in many industrial processes and now looks set to make space more accessible for many entrepreneurs.
Image source: uberly.com
About Alison Page
Alison is a small business owner, freelance writer, author and dressage judge. She has degrees in Equine Science and Business Studies. Read her full story at http://www.theladywriter.co.uk