NASA has recently tested a 3D printed rocket engine turbopump with liquid methane, an ideal propellant for engines needed to power many types of spacecraft for NASA’s journey to Mars. During the full power test, the turbines generated 600 horsepower and the fuel pump, got its “heartbeat” racing at more than 36,000 revolutions per minute delivering 600 gallons of semi-cryogenic liquid methane per minute – enough to fuel an engine producing over 22,500 pounds of thrust. Three other tests were completed at lower power levels.
Hydrogen turbopump component testing was completed in 2015. These tests along with manufacturing and testing of injectors and other rocket engine parts are paving the way for advancements in 3D printing of complex rocket engines and more efficient production of future spacecraft including methane-powered landers.
Testing ensures 3D printed parts operate successfully under conditions similar to those in landers, ascent vehicles and other space vehicles. “Additive manufacturing allowed us to build the turbopump with 45 percent fewer parts,” said Nick Case, the Marshall propulsion engineer who led the testing. “This made it affordable to build two turbopumps, get them on the test stand quickly, and get results. Our next step will be to test the liquid methane turbopump with other 3-D printed engine components in a similar configuration to the liquid hydrogen tests completed last year.”