This Is the World's First 3D-Printed Platinum Spacecraft Thruster

More than 600 ignitions and an hour of firing—this was the heavy test for the world’s first spacecraft thruster with a platinum combustion chamber and nozzle made by 3D printing. And the thruster successfully passed its baptism of fire.

This is the 10 N hydrazine thruster which was printed in platinum—rhodium alloy using a laser beam applied to a metal powder bed, at the Airbus Defense & Space facility in Lampoldshausen, Germany, as part of the European Space Agency’s Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems program, ARTES:

Illustration for article titled This Is the Worlds First 3D-Printed Platinum Spacecraft Thruster

“The firings included a single burn of 32 minutes, during which a maximum throat temperature of 1253°C was attained. It demonstrates that performance comparable to a conventional thruster can be obtained through 3D printing”, explains Steffen Beyer of Airbus Defense & Space, who is managing the project.

“The aim was to test this alternative manufacturing method as a way of reducing material costs. At the start we were by no means certain it could be done, or even whether the metal powder could be prepared to the appropriate quality. For production we ended up using a laser machine normally employed for making jewelry, which is the current industrial state-of-the-art for manufacturing with these metals,” says Laurent Pambaguian, ESA supervisor.

In the video below you can watch one of the firings from the test series:




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They wanted to reduce material costs, so they built it out of one of the most expensive metals we have? That seems a bit... ironic?