The German Aerospace Center (DLR) is focusing on utilizing 3D printing technology to make space propulsion systems more cost-effective and reusable. The DLR’s 3D-LoCoS project aims to enhance metal-based additive manufacturing techniques, which will enable faster and more affordable production of technology demonstrators for new space components.
Jan Haubrich, Project Leader at the DLR Institute of Materials Research, emphasizes the importance of new manufacturing processes in improving performance and cost-effectiveness while paving the way for reusable launcher technologies. To achieve this, interdisciplinary teams from various DLR institutes are collaborating on the 3D-LoCoS project. Their goal is to expand the applications of the ‘Laser Powder Bed Fusion’ (LPBF) additive manufacturing process, known for its ability to create intricate structures.
One notable achievement of the project is the development of a combustion chamber specifically tailored for the LPBF manufacturing process. The combustion chamber is made from a blend of copper, chromium, and zirconium, making it both thermally conductive and heat-resistant. It underwent successful testing on the P8 research and technology test stand in Lampoldshausen, demonstrating its ability to deliver 25 kilonewtons of thrust.
The team conducted six hot-fire tests, showcasing the potential of this new fabrication method and the functionality of the 3D-printed combustion chamber. The use of artificial intelligence played a significant role throughout the project, from designing the chamber to executing tests. However, Jan Haubrich acknowledges that additive manufacturing processes are relatively young compared to other methods, requiring further testing and technological advancements.
The team plans to further develop the copper combustion chamber into flight-ready hardware using AI. They also aim to collaborate with industry partners to enhance technology transfer. The design and application of 3D printing in the combustion chamber’s production have set new standards, particularly in terms of gas impermeability, geometric precision, and surface roughness. The LPBF process allowed the construction of a singular combustion chamber unit exceeding 60 centimeters in length.
Overall, the DLR’s 3D-LoCoS project demonstrates the potential of additive manufacturing in the space industry, offering cost-effective and efficient production of spaceflight components.