NASA Tests Out 3D-printed Rotating Detonation Rocket Engine!

Engineers at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, conduct a successful, 251-second hot fire test of a full-scale Rotating Detonation Rocket Engine combustor in fall 2023, achieving more than 5,800 pounds of thrust. Credit: NASA

Looking to the future, NASA is investigating several technologies that will allow it to accomplish some bold objectives. This includes returning to the Moon, creating the infrastructure that will let us stay there, sending the first crewed mission to Mars, exploring the outer Solar System, and more. This is particularly true of propulsion technologies beyond conventional chemical rockets and engines. One promising technology is the Rotating Detonation Engine (RDE), which relies on one or more detonations that continuously travel around an annular channel.

In a recent hot fire test at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, the agency achieved a new benchmark in developing RDE technology. On September 27th, engineers successfully tested a 3D-printed rotating detonation rocket engine (RDRE) for 251 seconds, producing more than 2,630 kg (5,800 lbs) of thrust. This sustained burn meets several mission requirements, such as deep-space burns and landing operations. NASA recently shared the footage of the RDRE hot fire test (see below) as it burned continuously on a test stand at NASA Marshall for over four minutes.

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NASA Tests a 3D Printed Aluminum Rocket Nozzle

The RAMFIRE nozzle performs a hot fire test at Marshall’s East test area stand 115. Credit: NASA

When it comes to the current era of space exploration, one of the most important trends is the way new technologies and processes are lowering the cost of sending crews and payloads to space. Beyond the commercial space sector and the development of retrievable and reusable rockets, space agencies are also finding new ways to make space more accessible and affordable. This includes NASA, which recently built and tested an aluminum rocket engine nozzle manufactured using their new Reactive Additive Manufacturing for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (RAMFIRE) process.

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Would Mars be More Habitable if it Orbited a Red Dwarf?

Artist’s rendering of an exoplanet system experiencing atmospheric escape in connection with its host star. Credit: MACH Center / Aurore Simonnet

Thanks to the explosion in discoveries made in the last decade, the study of extrasolar planets have entered a new phase. With 4,884 confirmed discoveries in 3,659 systems (and another 7,958 candidates awaiting confirmation), scientists are shifting their focus from discovery to characterization. This means examining known exoplanets more closely to determine if they possess the necessary conditions for life, as well as “biomarkers” that could indicate the presence of life.

A key consideration is how the type of star may impact a planet’s chances of developing the right conditions for habitability. Consider red dwarf stars, the most common stellar class in the Universe and a great place to find “Earth-like,” rocky planets. According to a new study by an international team of scientists, a lifeless planet in our own backyard (Mars) might have evolved differently had it orbited a red dwarf instead of the Sun.

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