The first 'hot fire' testing trials of a 3D printed monolithic ceramic thruster

Researchers at the University of Birmingham have confirmed successful trials of the first 3D printed ceramic catalyst bed which could significantly improve the efficiency and longevity of space travel.

The first ‘hot fire’ testing trials of a 3D printed ceramic thruster were completed earlier this month as part of development work led by Dr Khamis Essa, Lecturer in Advanced Manufacturing and carried out by Dr Hany Hassanin, research Fellow in School of Mechanical Engineering. These trials were the culmination of several years of work into the use of additive manufacturing to create a new generation of rocket engines for space engineering.

Funded by the European Space Agency, the project aimed to develop enhanced catalyst bed thrusters through use of additive manufacturing techniques. University of Birmingham has developed a novel additive manufacturing technique which can manufacture ceramic complex parts with a resolution of less than 100 micron and a high surface area per unit mass. The team members exploited their novel ceramic manufacturing and coating routes into monolithic catalyst beds, resulting in high and repeatable performance with highly concentrated hydrogen peroxide as a less toxic, more environmentally friendly monopropellant.

The monolithic catalyst beds produced by University of Birmingham out-performed the baseline ceria pellets catalyst beds in many aspects. The trials developed with partners, DELTACAT and university of Southampton, tested the new design and the engine performance was a 20N thrust at 700oc, 3.5bar Pressure drop and 909m/s C* with 99% C* efficiency recorded. This confirms the results that the University of Birmingham catalyst beds were extremely reactive. The work carried out in this research project is forecasted to have particular impacts on the space industry in different aspects such as design innovation of the catalyst beds, thrusters’ compactness and performance, less material waste and production cost, reduced time to market, environment and safety procedures via the use of green monopropellant.

Dr Essa said:

These results are truly impressive. The testing team indicated that they have never seen performance like this. I’m excited about developing such revolutionary new technology and look forward to seeing it make high impacts on the space industry.