Arctic Slope Regional Corporation (ASRC) Federal, located in Beltsville, Maryland, successfully fired a sub-scale propellant injector created using 3D printing technology. This groundbreaking creation has opened the door for the development of a version the could potentially support the engine that United Launch Alliance elects to replace the Russian-made RD-180 used on the Atlas 5 rocket.

ASRC propellant injector

ASRC test firing its 3D printed propellant injector. Credit: ASRC

In April, the ASRC’s Federal Technical Services branch completed full-power testing. The test resulted in retiring risk on an engine component that could possibly be built in a fraction of the time of the traditional building techniques. ASRC Federal Technical Services project manager, Joseph Sims, recently told SpaceNews:

“We reduced production time for this injector to eight days, which would have been over a month using traditional machining…We also reduced parts count from five parts to a single part.”

In January 2016, ASRC received nearly $3.7 million dollars from the U.S. Air Force to construct a pre-burner capable of enabling the “continuous dilution” for fuel in the combustion chamber of an engine. The Air Force predicts that this technology would not only cut the cost of the engine’s life cycle, but would also greatly improve the engine’s reliability.

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ASRC recently told SpaceNews that their 3D printed propellant injector will be integrated into their sub-scale, oxygen-rich pre-burner (ORPB). This could potentially provide support to whichever oxygen-rich staged combustion cycle (ORSC) engine the ULA chooses.

Aerojet Rocketdyne’s AR1 and Blue Origin’s BE-4 are both ORSC engines. In a 2014 interview with SpaceNews, Julie Van Kleeck, Vice President of Space and Launch Systems at Aerojet Rocketdyne, provided that although ORSC technology is prevalent in Russia, it has yet to be used in American rockets. Joseph Sims provided that ARSC’s technology maturation program “is structured to provide a pre-burner design that could be inserted into the ORSC engine development program in 2019.”

The next step for ASRC is to finalize its subscale pre-burner design, using the test results, that is set to undergo testing by the end of 2017.

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