Launcher reaches test milestone with NASA and expands Velo3D partnership for rocket engine manufacturing


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Private US aerospace company Launcher has taken another step forward in testing its 3D printed E-2 rocket engine at NASA’s Stennis Space Center.

The company successfully completed a hot thrust chamber assembly test in August, following a series of tests for its E-2 rocket engine at Stennis earlier this year. Launcher also purchased a second Sapphire 3D printing system from the OEM Velo3D 3DD printer capable of printing titanium, which he will use to start printing orbiter pressure vessels for the engine.

“The opportunity to work with a world-class team and facilities at Stennis has given us important milestones in the development of the E-2,” said Andre Ivankovic, chief engineer at Launcher. “The Stennis team is working hard to meet our testing needs, and the facility can provide us with large quantities of high pressure gas and propellants, as well as a data acquisition system.

“These capabilities were essential for us to run multiple test campaigns in the first year after becoming a commercial tenant. “

Launcher performs a hot-shot test for his 3D-printed Engine-2 rocket engine in Test Complex E at NASA’s Stennis Space Center. Photo via Launcher / John Kraus Photography.

Optimizing rocket engines with 3D printing

Launcher was created in 2017 with the aim of creating efficient and cost-effective rockets capable of carrying small satellites into space. After receiving a $ 1.5 million Space Force contract in 2019, the company began developing 3D printed components to improve the performance of its E-2 engine.

The E-2 engine is designed to produce 22,000 pounds of thrust at sea level using RP-1, a highly refined form of kerosene, and liquid oxygen as the propellants. The engine will power the company’s Launcher Light vehicle, which will be able to carry payloads of up to 330 pounds in low earth orbit (LEO) by its first launch scheduled for 2024.

Among the components printed so far is a rocket combustion chamber, which would have been the largest part of its kind measuring 860mm high, and 3D printed in one piece. According to Launcher, the chamber will produce the highest thrust, produce the lowest thruster consumption, and offer the lowest cost per pound of thrust in the small satellite launch class.

The launcher’s E-2 engines are 3D printed from a high performance copper alloy and are designed to require less propellant to orbit. The company hopes that this will allow the delivery of more satellite cargo by rocket and therefore allow it to offer a lower price than its competitors.

Launcher's AMCM-3D printed combustion chamber.
Launcher’s AMCM-3D printed combustion chamber. Photo via AMCM.

Test with Stennis

The Stennis Space Center is the primary rocket propulsion testing facility in the United States, equipped with specialized infrastructure, a cryogenic thruster, and high pressure gas facilities and laboratories. The center also provides advanced data collection technologies to its business customers, government partners and academia.

Launcher decided to test their 3D printed rocket motors at Stennis because of their expertise and flexibility in testing both rocket motors and large-scale components.

“While we have gone from testing 1,000 lbf liquid thrust rocket motors at our own test site to 22,000 lbf thrust motors, we have teamed up with NASA Stennis because of the surprisingly cost. low and incredible facilities that we could tap into, ”said Max Haot, founder of the launcher. and CEO. “Initially, we wondered if the government agency would be able to work at our start-up pace and with our culture.

“Since then, we’ve been shocked at how great and easy it has been to work with the NASA team – to the point that we’ve dubbed the Stennis E complex ‘rocket engine testing heaven’. “

At the end of August, Launcher successfully completed a five-second hot-shot test for the rocket motor thrust chamber assembly at Stennis, following a series of tests carried out at the site. In October 2020, the company carried out the first full-scale test fire of its E-2 engine injector and combustion chamber, followed by a series of tests of its liquid oxygen turbopump (LOX) printed in 3D, printed in partnership with Velo3D.

Over the next few weeks, Launcher plans to run longer tests of its thrust chamber assembly. The company plans to conduct full, full-scale testing of its 3D-printed turbopump-integrated E-2 engine by the middle of next year.

“There is sometimes a misconception that working with government is expensive,” said David “Skip” Roberts, NASA’s senior project engineer overseeing the launcher’s testing partnership. “However, by choosing to test at Stennis, commercial tenants like Launcher can reduce the risk of testing, speed up their development process and save money.

“One of the main reasons Launcher decided to come to Stennis was our test infrastructure and the ability of our high pressure gas facility to deliver the propellants and gases needed.”

Launcher 3D printed turbo pump assembly.
Launcher 3D printed turbo pump assembly. Photo via launcher.

Extend the partnership with Velo3D

Launcher first partnered with Velo3D in May earlier this year to optimize the design of a legacy, performance-critical LOX turbopump component in its E-2 rocket engine. Key turbopump components were 3D printed using a Velo3D Sapphire 3D printing system, comprising an Inconel printed pump outlet housing and an aluminum printed LOX pump inlet housing.

The performance of the turbopump was evaluated at Stennis in a series of tests in April, including a liquid nitrogen cold flow test, consisting of a total of seven tests lasting 211.2 seconds, and a liquid oxygen cold flow test consisting of eight tests for a combined 162.6 seconds.

Following the success of the tests, Launcher is now extending its partnership with Velo3D by purchasing a second Sapphire metal AM system capable of printing titanium. The partners will work together to 3D print the fuel pump and turbine housing parts of Launcher’s E-2 engine, with the second Sapphire machine used to 3D print the engine’s orbiter pressure vessels.

“Velo3D really delivered our turbopump, including its 3D printed rotating impeller, which all performed flawlessly the first time around at 30,000 rpm, using the first prototype,” said Haot. “Rocket engine turbopump parts typically require casting, forging and welding. Tooling required for these processes increases development cost and reduces flexibility between design iterations.

“The ability to 3D print our turbopump, including Inconel cased rotary impellers, thanks to Velo3D’s zero-degree technology, now allows for lower cost and increased innovation through iteration between each prototype. “

The Launcher Orbiter propellant tank printed in Inconel using its first Velo3D Sapphire printer.  Photo via Velo3D.
The Launcher Orbiter propellant tank printed in Inconel using its first Velo3D Sapphire printer. Photo via Velo3D.

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Featured Image Shows Launcher performs a hot-shot test for his 3D-printed Engine-2 rocket engine in Test Complex E at NASA’s Stennis Space Center. Photo via Launcher / John Kraus Photography.

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