On May 25th a very special rocket successfully lifted off into space from a site in New Zealand. The Electron Rocket, created by US based company Rocket Lab, was the first rocket to use an almost entirely 3D printed engine. Ten of the titanium engines were used to power the rocket and its 150kg payload into a 500km orbit.
The engine in question, known as the Rutherford Engine was printed in 24 hours using Electron Beam Manufacturing (EBM). Additive manufacturing was chosen for this task because it is perfect for short production runs of lightweight components, exactly what the aeronautical industry needs. The team at Rocket Lab used complex lattice forms to reduce weight and therefore increase fuel efficiency. Without additive manufacturing, these complex internal structures would have been entirely unattainable.
The rocket's combustion chamber, injectors, pumps and main propellant valves were all 3D printed using EBM (electron beam melting). This form of metal 3D printing is very similar to Selective Laser Melting (SLM), but uses a focused electron beam as its means of melting the metal. The advantage of EBM over SLM is the superior build rate due to the beam’s higher energy density. This melts the powder faster, thus increasing the build speed.
This isn’t the first time 3D printing has starred in the aerospace spotlight. NASA has previously employed it to reduce weight in its rockets, for example, printing a 115-piece assembly in only two parts. This saves a large amount of weight and in the race to space, every gram matters. Boeing has also used additive manufacturing in the development of their experimental Microlattice. This record-breaking metal microlattice is approximately a hundred times lighter than Styrofoam and light enough to sit comfortably on the delicate head of dandelion clock.
Here at Fluxaxis, we strive to keep up with this ever-changing and ever-growing industry, in order to give you the best prices and the highest quality service possible. The possibilities in additive manufacturing are seemingly endless. Contact us here to find out what we can do for you.