Tri-D Dynamics Set to Use 3D Printers to Make Small, Less Expensive Rocket Engines for Smallsats

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PurdueLogoAccording to one of the Purdue University graduate students who recently co-founded a startup that has big plans for 3D printers, the West Lafayette, Indiana university is “one of the best aerospace engineering schools in the world.” Judging by some of the university’s amazing research we’ve written about before, like 3D printing with liquid metal and 3D printing functional toys on an EnvisionTEC Xtreme 3SP, I’d have to agree with him. Some other student projects from Purdue also utilize 3D printing, like Filasoy 3D printing filament and this 3D printed Jimi Hendrix tribute guitar. Startup Tri-D Dynamics LLC plans to use 3D printers, and other additive manufacturing processes, to make small rocket engines that could be faster and less expensive to produce than traditionally manufactured engines.

tri-d-dynamics-homepageThe startup, co-founded by Purdue graduate students Alexander Finch and Deepak Atyam, plans to enter the emerging small satellite market and create small rocket engines for the future, using 3D printers. Traditional manufacturing methods could take three to four months to produce the same engines, but 3D printing cuts way back on this timeline…and the number of people involved.

“Typically you would need up to two machinists in addition to welders quality assurance personnel, testing personnel, and possibly more depending on complexity of the engine. With 3-D printers, ideally you will only need one or two people,” said co-founder Deepak Atyam, who received a master’s degree in aerospace engineering from Purdue’s School of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

Atyam and Finch have plans to market their technology to both governments and companies that are working on launching a new breed of small satellites called “smallsats,” which are low mass and small enough to be launched by smaller rockets.

Co-founder Alexander Finch, who is working to receive his master’s degree in aerospace engineering this May, said, “Utilizing hybrid additive manufacturing techniques to produce a liquid rocket with 2,500 to 5,000 pounds of thrust takes from maybe two days to a couple of weeks. Engines can be printed as one complete unit or as a series of components to be assembled.”

Tri-D Dynamics LLC co-founders Deepak Atyam (left) and Alexander Finch work with components and a diagram of one of their engines. They want to produce tomorrow’s rocket engines using 3-D printers. (Purdue Research Foundation photo/Oren Darling)

Tri-D Dynamics LLC co-founders Deepak Atyam (left) and Alexander Finch work with components and a diagram of one of their engines. [Photo: Purdue Research Foundation/Oren Darling]

While they were undergraduate students at the University of California, San Diego, Finch and Atyam led the first college student team in designing, 3D printing, and testing a rocket engine. They have completed internships with NASA, as well as several other well-known aerospace companies, and have achieved lots of praise and recognition for their work from multiple organizations. According to Finch, Purdue was an obvious choice, as the duo had “the specific aim of improving our chances to build a successful company.”

We’ve touched on smallsats before, usually in the same breath as CubeSats; until recently, smallsats have been launched on larger vehicles, as secondary payloads. But several companies, including Tri-D Dynamics, are working on developing launch vehicles that are made just for smallsats, so they won’t have to hitch a ride into orbit anymore. The Purdue startup’s plan is for the “launch vehicles to employ clusters of their engines positioned on the vehicle to lift the payload.” So the more engines that are used for liftoff, the larger the actual payload capacity.

Finch explained that none of these vehicles have launched yet, and that if their first launch in mid-2017 is successful, things should “ramp up pretty quickly.” The goal is to allow more launches over shorter time frames, by upscaling their production of engines.

Atyam said, “Our goal is to see these rockets launching once or twice a week. And that’s a minimum of 10 to 20 engines per week when you get to that scale. Nobody right now can stamp out engines at that rate.”

bowser-with-purdue-foundry

#BowserTheEntrepreneur, who seems to be the Purdue Foundry mascot [Image: Purdue Foundry]

The Tri-D Dynamics co-founders went through the LaunchBox program with the entrepreneurship and commercialization Purdue Foundry accelerator, whose professionals help innovative Purdue students create their startups. They will continue working with the Foundry this semester, with staff entrepreneur-in-residence Mike Shepard, who specializes in working with early stage and high-growth companies. Working with the Foundry led Finch and Atyam to another useful connection, with the Silicon Valley Boilermaker Innovation Group (SV BIG). Finch explained that the group of Silicon Valley Purdue alumni “serve as a sort of a proxy board of advisers for us.”

Finch said, “We didn’t see anything like SV BIG undergrads in California. To have a dedicated alumni group of entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley dedicated to helping companies from that university is a wonderful asset.”

The Purdue Foundry recommends that their relevant startups pitch ideas to the SV BIG group, which is dedicated to assisting new ventures from Purdue, and then they decide which ones to help. SV BIG is full of Purdue alumni who are now Silicon Valley professionals, who can offer Purdue Foundry startups advice in areas like venture capital, legal counsel, and startup leadership.

sv-bigSo, what is the plan for Tri-D Dynamics going forward? Finch and Atyam are working to prove that their engine clusters on smallsat launch vehicles idea is viable, and are currently looking for investors, as well as seeking funding from the US government.

“We hope to gain a large market share of the rocket engine production industry. Most others produce them through conventional methods or outsource them to machine shops. We want to be the one-stop-shop to be able to create rocket engines on a large or small scale,” said Atyam.

Discuss in the Purdue Startup forum at 3DPB.com.

[Source: Purdue]

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