NASA and DARPA “next generation” hypersonic project moving forward with 3D printing

A new hypersonic engine made for NASA and DoD advanced tech division DARPA has undergone successful testing according to manufacturing partner Aerojet Rocketdyne of California.

Additive manufacturing is a key enabling technology for hypersonic flight, an area the U.S. Department of Defense describes as ‘highest technical priority’ for the country.

The testing performed by Aerojet Rocketdyne relates to a  “new dual-mode ramjet/scramjet (DMRJ) engine.” In combination with a gas turbine engine – forming a turbine-based combined cycle propulsion (TBCC) system –  the DMRJ engine “may provide the capability to propel a vehicle from a standstill into the hypersonic flight regime of Mach 5 or higher and back again.”

Aerojet Rocketdyne CEO and President Eileen Drake said, “Aerojet Rocketdyne is well positioned to support this call to action as we have been developing hypersonic propulsion technologies for more than 30 years. Our scramjet engine powered the record-setting test flights of the X-51A WaveRider, and we have accelerated our development efforts since then. That progress, when combined with the advances we’ve made in additive manufacturing has enabled this next generation of hypersonic propulsion systems.”

Aerojet Rocketdyne’s new dual-mode ramjet/scramjet undergoes testing in the 8-foot high temperature tunnel at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. Photo via Aerojet Rocketdyne.
Aerojet Rocketdyne’s new dual-mode ramjet/scramjet undergoes testing in the 8-foot high temperature tunnel at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. Photo via Aerojet Rocketdyne.

DoD Digital Factory vision

Hypersonic flight is the subject of substantial attention from world superpowers. Sometimes referred to as single use hypersonic, a nation possessing such a capability could potentially deliver military payloads across the globe before an adequate response was possible. Reusable hypersonic vehicles are also under development, including UK based Reaction Engines’ AM enabled SABRE propulsion system.

Understandably this means advances in the field are unlikely to be revealed in detail. An Aerojet Rocketdyne spokesperson contacted by 3D Printing industry declined to provide additional information.

What is known is that additive manufacturing, using a range of materials including ceramics is increasing finding application within hypersonic projects. For example, creating ceramic shields using 3D printing technology for the US Air Force Research Laboratory.

Working with DARPA and Boeing, Aerojet Rocketdyne has previously tackled projects including a  hypersonic spaceplane and a 3D printed pogo accumulator as part of the  RS-25 program supporting a manned mission to Mars.

An Aerojet Rocketdyne technician inspects the 3D printed pogo accumulator assembly on an RS-25 development engine. Photo via Aerojet Rocketdyne
An Aerojet Rocketdyne technician inspects the 3D printed pogo accumulator assembly on an RS-25 development engine. Photo via Aerojet Rocketdyne

A report delivered by the DoD to congress earlier this year describes the importance of additive manufacturing and its role within a digitally based manufacturing environment, also referred to as the Digital Factory vision. According to the report, “Additive manufacturing (3D printing) and fully digital-capable equipment are creating new and more efficient manufacturing capabilities that in some cases lower operation costs by 50% and reduce cycle times by margins greater than 70%.”

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Featured image shows Aerojet Rocketdyne’s new dual-mode ramjet/scramjet undergoes testing in the 8-foot high temperature tunnel at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. Photo via Aerojet Rocketdyne.

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