December 7, 2015 – Aerojet Rocketdyne, a subsidiary of Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings, Inc. has completed 12 additively manufactured production nozzle extensions for use aboard the Orion spacecraft. The nozzle extensions are part of Orion’s crew module reaction control system that Aerojet Rocketdyne is building for Lockheed Martin and NASA.
“These components are the first additively manufactured parts we have provided for the Orion spacecraft,” said Julie Van Kleeck, vice president of Advanced Space & Launch Programs at Aerojet Rocketdyne. “The reaction control system on the Orion crew module is critical for astronaut crew safety, which is why we have invested heavily in the development and testing of additively manufactured components.”
The 12 nozzles were produced on a single additive manufacturing machine in just three weeks, which represents a roughly 40 percent reduction in production time when compared with using conventional manufacturing techniques. The company will next conduct a series of inspections and hot-fire tests to qualify the components for use aboard Orion’s Exploration Mission-1 test flight in 2018.
The reaction control system provides the Orion crew module with the ability to control its course after it has separated from the service module. Additionally, during Orion’s reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere, it ensures that the heat shield is properly oriented, the crew module is stable under the parachutes and that the vehicle is in the correct orientation for splashdown.
Aerojet Rocketdyne, a recognized industry leader in additive manufacturing, has been working in cooperation with NASA and the U.S. Air Force for more than two decades to evolve this technology to meet the stringent requirements of aerospace systems.
“The company has had several successes in developing this 3-D printing technology for a broad range of products – from discrete component demonstrations, to hot-fire testing of engines and propulsion systems made entirely with additive manufacturing. Now, we can add qualifying components for human spaceflight programs to that list of accomplishments,” said Jay Littles, director of Advanced Launch Vehicle Propulsion at Aerojet Rocketdyne.
The use of additive manufacturing technology, often referred to as 3-D printing, reduces the cost to produce components, shortens build times and unleashes engineers to design components that were once impossible to build using traditional manufacturing techniques.
“We have invested the time and resources necessary to gain a thorough understanding of not only what it takes to build components, but how they will perform in their harsh environments,” added Littles. “What sets us apart from someone just buying a 3-D printer is that we understand the process from start to finish, from feed powders, to the optimized machine process parameters, to the resulting material microstructures and material properties. Beyond the materials characterization efforts, we’ve analyzed and tested the components to ensure that they perform as designed.”