11/1/2018 | 1 MINUTE READ

Thrusters with Additively Manufactured Components to Fly Spacecraft

Aerojet Rocketdyne has completed qualification testing for the reaction control thruster system for NASA’s Orion crew vehicle.


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Aerojet Rocketdyne completed qualification testing for the reaction control thruster system for NASA’s Orion crew vehicle, clearing the way for the Lockheed Martin-built spacecraft’s second test flight, and first mission to cislunar space, called Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1).

The reaction control system (RCS) guides the Orion crew module after it separates from its service module in preparation for atmospheric re-entry and subsequent splashdown. Consisting of 12 MR-104G hydrazine thrusters capable of 160 pounds of thrust each, the system will ensure that the spacecraft is properly oriented (with its heat shield pointed downward) for re-entry, and stable during descent.

Aerojet Rocketdyne employed additive manufacturing in fabricating the RCS engine nozzle extensions. These 3D-printed components, along with other items on the spacecraft, mark one of the first times in history that a spacecraft carrying humans will incorporate additively manufactured parts, the company says.

During the yearlong qualification test program a single engine was subjected to shock and vibration, exceeding the maximum stresses expected during the launch. For EM-1, Orion will be launched toward the moon on the maiden flight of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. The non-flight test engine—drawn from the same production lot as the EM-1 RCS flight engines—burned through 619 pounds of propellant during the test program, accumulating 962 seconds of total firing time.

In addition to the RCS, Aerojet Rocketdyne is supplying the main- and upper-stage liquid engines for the SLS, and well as the jettison motor that will separate Orion’s launch abort system from the crew module shortly after activation of the SLS’s second stage.