This is the first such test of a printed liquid-fueled, metal rocket engine by any university in the world
Like something out of a Robert Heinlein novel, students at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) have built a metal rocket engine using a technique previously confined to NASA. Earlier this month, the UCSD chapter of the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS) at the Jacobs School of Engineering conducted a hot fire test for a 3D-printed metal rocket engine at the Friends of Amateur Rocketry launch site in California’s Mojave Desert. This is the first such test of a printed liquid-fueled, metal rocket engine by any university in the world and the first designed and printed outside of NASA.
The Tri-D rocket engine, as it’s called, was designed and built with the cooperation of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center as part of an effort to explore the feasibility of printed rocket components. For purposes of the exercise, it was designed to power the third stage of a Nanosat launcher, that is, one capable of launching satellites that weigh less than 1.33 kg (2.93 lb).
Tri-D is only about 7 in (17.7 cm) long and weighs about 10 lb (4.5 kg). Made of a chromium-cobalt alloy, it burns kerosene and liquid oxygen and produces about 200 lb (90.7 kg) of thrust. The students’ main contribution was design of the injector plate, which is a key component used to inject fuel into the combustion chamber. In this case, the injector has a Fuel-Oxidizer-Oxidizer-Fuel inlet arrangement with two outer fuel orifices converging with two inner oxidizer orifices.
The rocket has a regenerative cooling jacket that extends to the nozzle to keep the engine cool while firing. It was designed to burn the fuel in the middle of the combustion chamber to keep as much heat as possible away from the chamber walls, while insulating them with a boundary layer of relatively cool gases.
The Tri-D engine cost only US$6,800 with NASA putting up US$5,000 and the students collected the balance with fundraisers, such as barbecue sales.
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