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NASA successfully tests 3D-printed rocket part

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NASA says it has successfully tested a rocket engine fuel injector that was made using 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing.

Using the traditional manufacturing process, NASA says that it would have taken one year to build this part. With 3D printing the total time needed to make the part has been slashed to four months, reducing costs by 70 percent.

NASA used the selective laser melting manufacturing technology, a type of additive manufacturing, in which high-powered laser beams are used to melt and fuse together tiny metallic powders into 3D objects.

Of course, it's not the first time additive manufacturing has been used by NASA, just not for such an important part.

"The injector is the heart of a rocket engine and represents a large portion of the resulting cost of these systems. Today, we have the results of a fully additive manufactured rocket injector with a demonstration in a relevant environment," said Jeff Haynes, additive manufacturing program manager at Aerojet Rocketdyne, which assisted NASA with the testing.

The part tested this time was a miniature version rocket engine injector, but successful testing means it can move forward with 3D printing of full-scale parts, and more, in the future.

"NASA recognizes that on Earth and potentially in space, additive manufacturing can be game-changing for new mission opportunities, significantly reducing production time and cost by 'printing' tools, engine parts or even entire spacecraft," said Michael Gazarik, NASA's associate administrator for space technology. "3-D manufacturing offers opportunities to optimize the fit, form and delivery systems of materials that will enable our space missions while directly benefiting American businesses here on Earth."

Read more: NASA

Photo: Flickr/NASA Goddard Photo and Video

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— By on July 14, 2013, 11:53 PM PST

Tyler Falk

Contributing Editor

Tyler Falk is a freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. Previously, he was with Smart Growth America and Grist. He holds a degree from Goshen College. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure