Skip to Content
Space

NASA and Virgin Orbit have 3D-printed a working rocket engine part

Image of engineers test-firing a 3D-printed rocket engine combustion chamber at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
Image of engineers test-firing a 3D-printed rocket engine combustion chamber at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
Image of engineers test-firing a 3D-printed rocket engine combustion chamber at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.NASA/Virgin Orbit

They have successfully test-fired 3D-printed combustion chambers made from multiple materials.

The news: By combining their manufacturing and testing capabilities, small-satellite launcher Virgin Orbit and NASA created a rocket combustion chamber that was 3D-printed from multiple metals. A combustion chamber is the container where all the propellants get mixed up and ignite—so it must be able to cope with extreme heat and force. The test part that used the chamber generated more than 2,000 pounds of thrust in a series of 60-second test fires. You can watch a video of the test firing here.

Why are chambers a challenge? Because it has to withstand so much, it must be designed to a very high standard, meaning the part is expensive and time consuming to make.

Since 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, creates parts by building them up rather than carving them from a block or casting them, it can make the process of manufacturing these parts faster and cheaper. It also allows engineers to improve upon their designs. For example, the engineers were able to strengthen the chamber by adding an additional alloy to the base copper part.

What's next: A number of companies are now working on creating 3D-printed rocket components, including Relativity Space, which is attempting to print 95% of its rocket. NASA is working on printing a number of other parts as well, and hopes to use the technology for future projects like lunar landers or deep-space explorers.

Want to keep up to date with space tech news? Sign up for our space newsletter, The Airlock.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

open sourcing language models concept
open sourcing language models concept

Meta has built a massive new language AI—and it’s giving it away for free

Facebook’s parent company is inviting researchers to pore over and pick apart the flaws in its version of GPT-3

transplant surgery
transplant surgery

The gene-edited pig heart given to a dying patient was infected with a pig virus

The first transplant of a genetically-modified pig heart into a human may have ended prematurely because of a well-known—and avoidable—risk.

Muhammad bin Salman funds anti-aging research
Muhammad bin Salman funds anti-aging research

Saudi Arabia plans to spend $1 billion a year discovering treatments to slow aging

The oil kingdom fears that its population is aging at an accelerated rate and hopes to test drugs to reverse the problem. First up might be the diabetes drug metformin.

Yann LeCun
Yann LeCun

Yann LeCun has a bold new vision for the future of AI

One of the godfathers of deep learning pulls together old ideas to sketch out a fresh path for AI, but raises as many questions as he answers.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.