LPL successfully tests 3D rocket engine made on campus

LPL MEMBER TAI WEI (DAVID) CHEN WORKING ON THEIR FLAGSHIP ENGINE, BALERION. PHOTO/USC LPL.

The student-run USC Liquid Propulsion Lab (LPL) has gathered in Southern California’s Mojave Desert to execute the world’s first test fire of a student-built 3D printed rocket engine made entirely on campus.

The engine performed perfectly, proving their design and manufacturing methods are capable of withstanding the immense pressures of a combustion. This engine in particular, named James, experienced 725 pounds of pressure in its chamber, producing 600 pounds of thrust.

But it is just one in a fleet of 3D printed engines produced by LPL. The largest of which, called Balerion, is capable of 2,250 pounds of thrust and is planned to be tested for the first time in the spring.

Their engines are manufactured and built completely in-house at USC – a first for any 3D printed engine made by a student group. The parts are printed at the Center for Advanced Manufacturing using Inconel 718, a high strength nickel-based superalloy, and finished at the university’s machine shop.

The precision comes from 3D printing their engine. This enables them to design more complex architectures, allowing for better curvatures and geometries that increase engine performance.