Engineers prepare a 3D printed turbopump for a test at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. (NASA/MSFC/Emmett Given)
NASA tested a 3D printed rocket engine turbopump with liquid methane – an ideal propellant for engines needed to power many types of spacecraft for NASA’s journey to Mars. During the full-power test, the turbines generated 600 horsepower and the fuel pump got its “heartbeat” racing at more than 36,000 revolutions per minute, delivering 600 gallons of semi-cryogenic liquid methane per minute – enough to fuel an engine producing over 22,500 pounds of thrust.

Hydrogen turbopump component testing and testing with a liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen breadboard engine were completed in 2015. These tests along with manufacturing and testing of injectors and other rocket engine parts are paving the way for advancements in 3D printing of complex rocket engines and more efficient production of future spacecraft including methane-powered landers.