The nation is challenged to decrease the cost and schedule to develop new space transportation propulsion systems for commercial, scientific, and military purposes. Better design criteria and manufacturing techniques for small thrusters are needed to meet current applications in missile defense, space, and satellite propulsion. The requirements of these systems present size, performance, and environmental demands on these thrusters that have posed significant challenges to the current designers and manufacturers. Designers are limited by manufacturing processes, which are complex, costly, and time consuming, and ultimately limited in their capabilities.

The PDFF innovation vastly extends the design opportunities of rocket engine components and systems by making use of the unique manufacturing freedom of solid freeform rapid prototype manufacturing technology combined with the benefits of ceramic materials. The unique features of PDFF are developing and implementing a design methodology that uses solid freeform fabrication (SFF) techniques to make propulsion components with significantly improved performance, thermal management, power density, and stability, while reducing development and production costs. PDFF extends the design process envelope beyond conventional constraints by leveraging the key feature of the SFF technique with the capability to form objects with nearly any geometric complexity without the need for elaborate machine setup. The marriage of SFF technology to propulsion components allows an evolution of design practice to harmonize material properties with functional design efficiency.

Reduced density of materials when coupled with the capability to honeycomb structure used in the injector will have significant impact on overall mass reduction. Typical thrusters in use for attitude control have 60–90 percent of its mass in the valve and injector, which is typically made from titanium. The combination of material and structure envisioned for use in an SFF thruster design could reduce thruster weight by a factor of two or more. The thrust-to-weight ratios for such designs can achieve 1,000:1 or more, depending on chamber pressure.

The potential exists for continued development in materials, size, speed, accuracy of SFF techniques, which can lead to speculative developments of PDFF processes such as fabrication of custom human interface devices like masks, chairs, and clothing, and advanced biomedical application to human organ reconstruction.

Other potential applications are: higher fidelity lower cost test fixtures for probes and inspection, disposable thrusters, and ISRU (in situ resource utilization) for component production in space or on Lunar and Martian missions, and application for embedding MEMS (microelectromechanical systems) during construction process of form changing aerostructure/dynamic structures.

This work was done by Daudi Barnes of DMX Engineering, Jim McKinnon of Frontier Engineering, and Richard Priem of Priem Consultants for Glenn Research Center. For more information, download the Technical Support Package (free white paper) at under the Manufacturing & Prototyping category.

Inquiries concerning rights for the commercial use of this invention should be addressed to NASA Glenn Research Center, Innovative Partnerships Office, Attn: Steven Fedor, Mail Stop 4–8, 21000 Brookpark Road, Cleveland, Ohio 44135. Refer to LEW-18557-1.