It may look like some kind of ancient urn, but you’re looking at something rather more advanced. In fact this is the first full-scale copper rocket engine part made by NASA using 3D printing techniques.

The component is a combustion chamber liner—a part that operates at extreme temperatures and pressures. In fact, its function means that creating it was far from straightforwards, as Chris Singer from NASA explains:

“On the inside of the paper-edge-thin copper liner wall, temperatures soar to over 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and we have to keep it from melting by recirculating gases cooled to less than 100 degrees above absolute zero on the other side of the wall. To circulate the gas, the combustion chamber liner has more than 200 intricate channels built between the inner and outer liner wall. Making these tiny passages with complex internal geometries challenged our additive manufacturing team.”


The part was made using a laser sintering technique, which scans a laser beam over copper powder, selectively melting it—after which it cools to form solid copper. Over the course of 10 days and 18 hours, 8,255 layers of copper powder were fused to form the final result.

The combustion chamber liner will be coated with a nickel alloy jacket, and then later this year it will be hot-fire tested to investigate just how well it stands up to the rigors of space travel that it could face. If all goes well, it could usher in a new—and mercifully cheaper—means of creating rocket components. [NASA]