Launcher partners with VELO3D and Ansys to 3D print rocket engine upgrade E-2
Private American Aerospace Company Launcher collaborated with the manufacturer of 3D printers VELO3D and simulation software company Ansys to optimize the design of a component essential to the performance of its E-2 rocket engine.
Speaking to Gene Miller of VELO3D during an online webinar, Launcher CEO Max Haot explained how the companies had worked closely together to redesign a legacy Liquid Oxygen Turbopump (LOX). Since it was fitted with an improved impeller and housings, the revised pump has been successfully tested in the Launcher engine, and the project has now enabled it to establish a workflow for the rapid iteration of future pieces.
“As Launcher’s first successful turbo pump test, it is very important because they process liquid oxygen in the pump at 30,000 rpm,” Haot explained. “In this type of environment at 4,000 [pounds per square inch] discharge pressure, any anomaly – any friction between the rotor and the stator – can lead to immediate and unplanned dismantling. “
Achieve maximum thrust
When it comes to small launchers, turbine engine pumps are often vital for the level of thrust they can achieve, as they are directly responsible for injecting propellant into the engine. Prior to his redesign project, Launcher acquired schematics for such a part of a Ukrainian RD-8 rocket to power his E-2 unit, a LOX turbo pump that had performed 72 orbital flights aboard the Zenit launcher.
However, to optimize the level of thruster flow and pressure in the engine’s thrust chamber, Launcher had to produce and test it in-house, so he turned to VELO3D and Ansys for help. In the early stages of the project, the company’s engineers were able to use Ansys’ CFX platform to ensure that the rocket’s projected level of thrust matched its performance, before optimizing its parameters through mock tests.
Once the part was cleared for production, it was 3D printed using a VELO3D Sapphire system, allowing it to be manufactured with minimal use of supports. Since the LOX pump intake housing features overhanging internal geometries, VELO3D’s SupportFree technology made part creation much less complex, time-consuming and wasteful than it would have been otherwise.
Using a similar approach, Launcher engineers were also able to redevelop the pump impeller. Typically, these parts have a low overhang, making it difficult to incorporate supports, but the use of VELO3D’s machine allowed it to be 3D printed flat, giving it a distribution of uniform mass and preventing it from causing engine problems during rotation.
“By printing the part flat, we got a nice symmetrical distribution of the part’s mass with respect to this central axis of rotation,” explained Launcher engineer Andre Ivanovic, who was also on the webinar. “Balancing is necessary, because if a rotating component in turbomachines is not balanced, then with each rotation there will be a great vibration that will be driven into your system and into your bearings.”
A 3D printed pump in practice
After developing a ready-to-fly prototype pump, Launcher proceeded to deploy it as part of extensive engine testing at NASA. Stennis Space Center. During these performance reviews, the component was found to be able to withstand two minute fire tests at rated speed, a 30 second inlet and outlet pressure check, and another 30 second test. at 33,000 rpm.
Following its successful trials, Launcher plans to integrate the newly optimized E-2 engine into its upcoming “Launcher Light” rocket, which is due to enter service by 2026. Through its collaboration with VELO3D and Ansys, the company has also concluded that it was able to produce a more complex pump at lower costs and lower lead times than before, demonstrating the utility of 3D printing in rocket construction applications.
However, regarding Launcher’s E-2 turbine, Haot added that it was developed into a flight-ready design, but the final part tested was actually machined. As a result, the firm now intends to iterate more on the turbine, by equipping it with an Inconel housing which should provide it with a flow path similar to that identified in its previous evaluations.
“This turbine is traditionally machined, and in its current state, it is not a flyweight,” Haot concluded. “The next step in the development of the turbine after the successful tests we have performed is to develop a VELO3D Inconel box to integrate the flow path that we tested (at the Stennis Space Center).”
Launcher AM optimized engines
Since its inception in 2017, Launcher has continuously used 3D printing to improve the performance of its rocket engines, and the company’s new turbopump is actually expected to be installed in a fully additive-fabricated combustion chamber itself produced. in one piece. using a M 4K AM 3D printer provided by EOS subsidiary company AMCM.
Development of the 3D printed components of the E-2 engine dates back to a $ 1.5 million Space Force contract awarded to Launcher in November 2019. At the time, the company was producing a rocket combustion chamber that would have been the largest part of its kind, measuring 860mm high and featuring a 410mm outlet nozzle.
Likewise, in 2019, SLM Solutions was contracted to develop a 3D printed rocket engine for the British spaceflight company Orbex, which was considered the largest of its kind in the world. Designed to power Orbex’s Prime Launcher, the coin has been printed as a single piece to eradicate the use of all joints and strengthen its overall integrity.
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The featured image shows Launcher’s 3D printed turbo pump assembly. Photo via launcher.