|SpaceX completes Super Draco Qual|
The SuperDraco engine chamber is manufactured using state-of-the-art direct metal laser sintering (DMLS), otherwise known as 3D printing. The chamber is regeneratively cooled and printed in Inconel, a high-performance superalloy that offers both high strength and toughness for increased reliability.
“Through 3D printing, robust and high-performing engine parts can be created at a fraction of the cost and time of traditional manufacturing methods,” said Elon Musk, Chief Designer and CEO. “SpaceX is pushing the boundaries of what additive manufacturing can do in the 21st century, ultimately making our vehicles more efficient, reliable and robust than ever before.”
Paul Breed's interview inspired me to pursue DMLS for some wind tunnel models, and I think the RocketMoonlighting printed engines are pretty awesome. SpaceX's applications of DMLS to such a large motor is pretty exciting for a couple reasons though. This is a production engine that will be for a human rated vehicle. Of course, GE is already printing small (but important) production engine parts like fuel injectors, and has been using additive manufacturing for test components for a while. I'd be interested to see how much of the Super Draco is actually 3-D printed. Is it just a fuel injector like GE, or is it more in line with the RocketMoonlighting engine that is entirely printed?
A common thread in all these applications (regeneratively cooled engines, wind tunnel models, fuel injectors) is high internal complexity (passages for fluid flow or instrumentation) that can be had at greatly reduced parts count and fabrication complexity with an additive manufacturing method. These types of applications are squarely within the competitive advantage sweet spot for additive processes.