Aerojet Rocketdyne to Mature 3D Printed MPS-130 CubeSat Propulsion System for NASA

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ero“We didn’t invent 3D printing, but we sure are making it better.” – Aerojet Rocketdyne

Next to the medical field, as we follow the significant impacts 3D printing is making on the world, that of aerospace is right at the top of the list. While some are still confused about the actual importance of 3D printing as it hasn’t really affected them personally yet, it’s important to think on a much bigger scale. And there’s not much of a bigger scale than space.

For those who are cynical about the technology, pointing back to the continual supply of keychains and figurines (we all have to start somewhere, thank you!) being pumped out in plastic at the desktop, when you take a look at how long NASA has been involved with additive manufacturing—and how many parts they are using now—well, that’s impressive. Not only that, because of numerous 3D printed parts, larger components are being made that would not have been possible previously, and certainly not with such a level of customization, speed, and affordability.

download (15)We learn more about NASA and their plans continually, allowing for an education not only in the importance of 3D printed parts today, but also quite simply in how space travel is considered and what the future holds. It’s pretty darned exciting, as you are probably aware. And technology such as 3D printing has been playing a well-publicized part in everything from space suits for travel to Mars to 3D printed rocket engines. And when you couple the space technology excitement from NASA with the latest from Aerojet Rocketdyne, the details start to get intense.

Headquartered in Sacramento, CA, Aerojet Rocketdyne is another industry biggie that we report on often. Most recently we’ve followed their progress as the company known for their aerospace and defense solutions has been setting important standards regarding engine parts being made for the US Air Force. Now, they’ve signed a contract with NASA regarding a propulsion system for an MPS-130 CubeSat propulsion system to employ a green propellant, AF-M315E.

The modular system will be made of almost completely 3D printed parts, and as new technology today often lords over more conventional methods, the new green propellant will allow for greater efficiency and higher performance in comparision to hydrazine propellant, famously used in the F-16 fighter jets.

“This is an exciting opportunity to advance technology past its ‘tipping point’ into a revolutionary new product family,” said Aerojet Rocketdyne CEO and President Eileen Drake. “This new class of CubeSat propulsion systems can be used in future NASA, military and commercial missions, and the benefits for the public and private sectors will be immense.”

“Not only will it allow operators to increase the in-space capability of CubeSats and SmallSats, but it will allow them to operate more affordably and efficiently, and with a safer propellant.”

With the MPS-130, we should be hearing a great deal more in the future, as it will allow these ‘sats’ much greater capabilities, to include:

  • Extended mission life
  • Increased architecture resiliency
  • Maneuvering to lower and higher orbits
  • Complex proximity operations and formation flying

And as is usually the case in aerospace projects, the benefits of 3D printing will be on display in their full glory as the number of parts required for a build are lessened, productivity is increased in terms of assembly, and speed is accelerated overall—translating to savings for satellites owned by both the private and public sector.

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This partnership came about as Aerojet Rocketdyne excelled as a choice under the NASA Space Technology Mission Directorate’s “Utilizing Public-Private Partnerships to Advance Tipping Point Technologies” solicitation. The goal, unsurprisingly ambitious, is to take a current technology and then advance it beyond its ‘tipping point.’ NASA sees this as a way to do several things:

  • Enable the private industry to develop technology
  • Stimulate the commercial space industry
  • Deliver the required technology and capabilities for future missions and commercial applications

In looking for a tipping point, it would certainly seem that NASA couldn’t make a more powerful choice, as Aerojet Rocketdyne is known for offering solutions worldwide in the areas of propulsion and energetics, as well as defense systems for both the US and other countries. Everyone wins here as a great product will be made via 3D printing, space exploration is supported further, and we all get to see the amazing results as this technology is carried further into the future. Discuss further in the 3D Printed MPS-130 forum over at 3DPB.com.

[Source: Aerojet Rocketdyne]

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