San Diego, Calif., Oct. 3 — A group of engineering students at the University of California, San Diego, will boldly go where no university student group has gone before by testing a 3D-printed rocket engine made out of metal at 10 a.m. on Sunday Oct. 5 at the Friends of Amateur Rocketry testing site in the Mojave Desert.
To build the engine, students used a proprietary design that they developed. The engine was primarily financed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. and was printed by Illinois-based GPI Prototype and Manufacturing Services. This is the first time a university has produced a 3D-printed liquid fueled metal rocket engine, according to the students, who are members of the UC San Diego chapter of Students for the Exploration and Development of Space.
“We’ve all been working so hard, putting countless hours to ensure that it all works. If all goes well, we would be the first entity outside of NASA to have tested a liquid fueled rocket motor in its entirety. We hope to see all of our hard work come to fruition,” said Deepak Atyam, the organization’s president. Atyam is learning what it takes to become an engineering leader through the Gordon Scholars program at the Jacobs School. As a Gordon Scholar, he takes leadership courses and workshops, participates in leadership forums and think tanks, and completes a technical challenge project.
The engine was designed to power the third stage of a rocket carrying several NanoSat-style satellites with a mass of less than a few pounds each. The engine is about 6 to 7 inches long and weighs about 10 lbs. It is designed to generate 200 lbs of thrust and is made of cobalt and chromium, a high-grade alloy. It runs on kerosene and liquid oxygen. It cost $6,800 to manufacture, including $5,000 from NASA. The rest was raised by students through barbeque sales and other student-run fundraisers.
A 3D printed metal rocket engine would dramatically cut costs for launches, said Forman Williams, a professor of aerospace engineering at the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego, who is the students’ advisor. Williams admits that he was skeptical at first. The design of liquid-propellant rockets is very complex and detailed. But the students surprised him.
“At this stage, I think it’s most likely that the test will be successful,” Williams said.
Watch a video of tests on the engine here on campus