HRL receives Nasa funding to develop 3D-printed ceramic rocket engine parts


HRL Laboratories has secured undisclosed funding from Nasa to develop ceramic rocket engine components using additive manufacturing or 3D-printing technology.

To be provided for a period of two years, the funding is a part of Nasa’s Space Technology Research, Development, Demonstration and Infusion programme.

Last January, HRL demonstrated an approach to 3D-print preceramic resins, which can also be converted to high-temperature ceramic.

The latest investment will enable HRL to further develop this technology to additively manufacture reinforced ceramic rocket propulsion components.

“3D printing could completely change what ceramic parts look like and where they are applied in rocket engines.”

The HRL technology combines the ease, flexibility and low-cost of polymer additive manufacturing with the high-temperature capabilities of ceramics.

It also facilitates the development of new designs, as well as reduces costs and lead time.

HRL Laboratories senior scientist and the project's programme manager Tobias Schaedler said: “High-temperature ceramics are notoriously difficult to process with conventional methods.

“3D printing could completely change what ceramic parts look like and where they are applied in rocket engines.”

Jointly owned by Boeing and General Motors, HRL is also planning to subcontract micro satellite launch company Vector to investigate innovative rocket engine designs and assess performance improvements of its technology.

Under the arrangement, hot-fire ground testing of rocket engines containing 3D-printed heat-resistant parts will be conducted at Vector’s facility.

HRL specialises in the research of sensors and materials, as well as information and systems sciences, applied electromagnetics and microelectronics.

The R&D laboratory currently serves its member companies, the US Government and other commercial entities.