Aerojet Rocketdyne, a manufacturer of propulsion and energetics for aerospace, missile defense and strategic systems, has a new contract from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base to supply a series of large-scale additive manufacturing systems based on selective laser melting (SLM.) The new systems are intended to be used to develop liquid rocket engine components, for national security space launch services.

The value and timing of the contract were not announced, though independent sources put the value at $11.75 million over three years.

The contract was issued through the Defense Production Act Title III Office — a U.S. Dept. of Defense program seeking to develop lower-cost manufacturing for defense hardware. That program is based at the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio.

Sacramento-based Aerojet Rocketdyne and its subcontractors will design and develop larger-scale parts, which will be converted from conventional production methods — namely, metalcasting, forging, machining, plating, brazing, and welding — to additive manufacturing (i.e., 3D printing.)

"Our liquid rocket engines have been used for half a century and our products are highly efficient and complex with a safety and reliability record that is unparalleled," stated Jeff Haynes, program manager of Additive Manufacturing at Aerojet Rocketdyne.

In June, Aerojet Rocketdyne revealed it had manufactured and tested liquid oxygen/kerosene engine made entirely by 3D printing. The unit was designed and printed as three separate parts — the throat and nozzle section, the injector and dome assembly, and the combustion chamber — reducing the production time from years to months, and saving a reported 65% of the comparable manufacturing costs.

"Incremental manufacturing advances have been applied over the history of these programs with great success. Additive manufacturing shifts these advances into high gear and ultimately transforms how these engines are produced."

No other suppliers were named for the selective laser melting systems that will be supplied.

SLM is one of several technologies classified as 3D printing. It uses a laser as a power source to melt metal powders that have been deposited in a pattern defined by a CAD program. As the material fuses it forms a 3D structure.

Under the contract, Aerojet Rocketdyne will demonstrate three different alloys with the new larger additive manufacturing machines to include nickel, copper and aluminum alloys. The parts to be manufactured range from simple designs (large ducts) to more complex products (heat exchangers.)

"We have developed and successfully demonstrated additive-manufactured hardware over the last four years but the machines have been limited in size to 10-inch cubes," according to Steve Bouley, v.p., Space Launch Systems for Aerojet Rocketdyne. "These next-generation systems are about six times larger, enabling more options for our rocket engine components.”

Bouley predicted engines manufactured by additive manufacturing would be more efficient and cost-effective than engines produced by current standard methods.