Spaceflight Insider

RL-10 successfully completes hotfire tests

A re-generatively cooled, 3-D printed thrust chamber assembly for the next generation of RL10 rocket engines undergoes hot-fire testing at Aerojet Rocketdyne’s facility in West Palm Beach, Florida. Photo Credit: Aerojet Rocketdyne Inc.

A re-generatively cooled, 3-D printed thrust chamber assembly for the next generation of RL10 rocket engines undergoes hot-fire testing at Aerojet Rocketdyne’s facility in West Palm Beach, Florida. Photo Credit: Aerojet Rocketdyne Inc.

The use of 3D printing in spaceflight took another step forward in early 2018 when Aerojet Rocketdyne completed a series of hotfire tests of a new model of the RL10 rocket engine which was built almost entirely of 3D-printed parts.

Last year, the company produced a 3D-printed thrust chamber assembly and subjected it to a series of successful tests. The current version of the RL10 engine uses an array of stainless steel tubes that are brazed together to form the thrust chamber.

By incorporating 3D printing, Rocketdyne hopes to reduce the lead time by several months. This could also reduce costs.

“Hot-fire testing helps us validate the approaches we are using to fabricate and join parts that are produced through additive manufacturing to ensure they meet our requirements for materials characterization, structural integrity and durability. We are also able to accurately define the amount of heat-transfer that is taking place so we can optimize the performance of our next generation of RL10 engines,” Senior Program Director Christine Cooley explained. via a company-issued release.

The latest round of tests took place at the one of the company’s facility in West Palm Beach, Florida, and incorporated a new, 3D-printed thrust chamber made of a copper alloy, which makes use of a new, 3D-printed nickel-based nozzle that is regeneratively cooled. This means that propellant is passed through channels around the combustion chamber. The fuel makes for a good coolant, so it keeps the temperature of the engine down and then heated propellant is injected into the nozzle.

“This recent series of hot-fire tests conducted under our RL10C-X development program demonstrated the large-scale additive manufacturing capability we are maturing to help reduce the cost of this legendary engine system while continuing to provide reliable performance. This marks another important milestone in our effort to fully qualify components built with additive manufacturing for use in many of our production engine systems,” Eileen Drake, CEO of Aerojet Rocketdyne, stated regarding the recent tests. 

Drake also hopes that 3D-printing can open up new creative design spaces. “This latest round of testing demonstrates that we can systematically print and assemble an engine that can replicate the proven RL10 performance in a fraction of the time and at a reduced cost. Additive manufacturing technology also enables new approaches to engine design that we are now exploring through sub-system testing and validation.”

The RL10 engine has been in use since 1959, and has been utilized to launch probes to explore every planet in the Solar System. A single RL-10 is also being designed to power the Cryogenic Propulsion Stage of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS), and four RL10s will power the new super-heavy launch vehicle’s Exploration Upper Stage.

 

 

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Collin R. Skocik has been captivated by space flight since the maiden flight of space shuttle Columbia in April of 1981. He frequently attends events hosted by the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, and has met many astronauts in his experiences at Kennedy Space Center. He is a prolific author of science fiction as well as science and space-related articles. In addition to the Voyage Into the Unknown series, he has also written the short story collection The Future Lives!, the science fiction novel Dreams of the Stars, and the disaster novel The Sunburst Fire. His first print sale was Asteroid Eternia in Encounters magazine. When he is not writing, he provides closed-captioning for the hearing impaired. He lives in Atlantic Beach, Florida.

Reader Comments

Looks like a lot of salt particles got mixed into that flame with all that yellow color.

Looks like heavyhan#ed <se of photoshop on those flames. Where are the shockwaves?

your article: “RL-10 successfully completes hotfire tests.” The designation for the RL10 engine does not include a “-” between RL & 10.

I’ve seen it both ways. Here’s an article from Smithsonian’s National Air & Space. https://airandspace.si.edu/collection-objects/rocket-engine-liquid-fuel-rl-10

James Lunar Miner

Efficient RL10 hydrolox powered rocket engines with a vacuum Isp between 450 to 465 seconds are reliable, relatively simple and easy to restart, and can be deep throttled from 104% down to 8% thrust. It is a great rocket engine and could be used for needed reusable Lunar Landers that might be based on the various RL10 powered upper stages of upcoming launchers.

Note:

“In April 2018, Orbital ATK announced it would use two RL10C-5-1 engines for their OmegA to power the upper stage.”

And, “On May 11, 2018 United Launch Alliance (ULA) announced that Aerojet Rocketdyne would be strategic partner with their RL10C-X upper stage engine for ULA’s next-generation Vulcan Centaur rocket following a competitive procurement process.”

From: ‘RL10’ Wikipedia
At: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RL10#OmegA_Upper_Stage

June 18, 2018

Hi James,
We reviewed the article and can’t find either of those statements. Where did you read that? Also, is that information incorrect in some way?
Sincerely and with much thanks, Jason Rhian – Editor, SpaceFlight Insider

James Lunar Miner

The direct quotes were from this area of the RL10 Wikipedia article:

“OmegA Upper Stage
In April 2018, Orbital ATK announced it would use two RL10C-5-1 engines for their OmegA to power the upper stage.[20] Blue Origin’s BE-3U and Airbus Safran’s Vinci were also considered before Aerojet Rocketdyne’s engine was selected.
Vulcan Centaur Upper Stage
On May 11, 2018 United Launch Alliance (ULA) announced that Aerojet Rocketdyne would be strategic partner with their RL10C-X upper stage engine for ULA’s next-generation Vulcan Centaur rocket following a competitive procurement process.[21]”

From: RL10
At: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RL10#OmegA_Upper_Stage

What information do you think may be incorrect?

Have a great day!

June 18, 2018

Hi James,
I didn’t think they were incorrect, you cited them as if we had made an error and I was trying to understand. Thanks for clarifying!
Sincerely, Jason Rhian – Editor, SpaceFlight Insider

James Lunar Miner

Hi Jason,
I enjoyed this RL10 article by Collin Skocik! I love the RL10 and wanted to add a little bit more information. Sorry about the confusion!

It might be useful in reducing mission risk for two or three RL10s, instead of the planned one BE-3U, to eventually be used on the optional third stage of Blue Origin’s New Glenn.

Of course, a super high 9,000+ Isp solar electric propulsion powered third stage for the New Glenn could be used for efficiently hauling ice and other material from a low Lunar orbit to a low Earth orbit.

Two or three RL10s for powering Blue Origin’s Blue Moon Lander might also be useful. Just a thought. Time will tell.

Lunar ice for making hydrolox and other useful things may be coming to Earth orbit!

Note:

“Blue Origin CEO Jeff Bezos indicated that the ‘Blue Moon’ lander could be used for deliveries to the lunar surface in the 2020s followed by a delivery of lunar ice from Shackleton Crater back to Earth soon afterward.”

From:
“Blue Origin looking to make a ‘Blue Moon'”
By Bart Leahy April 12th, 2017
At:
http://www.spaceflightinsider.com/organizations/blue-origin/blue-origin-looking-make-blue-moon/#wAXUhx9mmUu65iFQ.99

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