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Air Force Funds 3D-Printing Study for Rocket Engines
Johns Hopkins University will use its Air Force award to research 3-D printing of rocket engine cooling chambers.
Credit: JHU

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force awarded the Johns Hopkins University's Whiting School of Engineering a $545,000 contract to study additive manufacturing techniques to make cooling chambers for liquid rocket engines, according to a Nov. 4 press release from the Air Force's Space and Missile Systems Center.

The contract is part of a broader effort to end reliance on a Russian rocket engine that powers United Launch Alliance's Atlas 5 rocket, which is used to launch a majority of U.S. national security satellites.

In 2014, Congress banned the future use of Russian engines as tensions with Moscow escalated over Russia's incursions into Ukraine. Congress also allocated funding to develop a U.S. alternative to the RD-180, but the Air Force hopes to fund work on a brand new rocket as part of its broader strategy to have competition in military launches. [3D-Printing and Space Travel: A Photo Gallery]

As an initial step, the Air Force is pursuing two aims: reducing the cost of rocket propulsion components and subsystems through the use of new materials and additive manufacturing; and enhancing its overall launch capabilities while lowering costs through improvements to existing rockets or by developing new ones.

The service has said it wants improvements that can be completed in less than two years.

This story was provided by SpaceNews, dedicated to covering all aspects of the space industry.