PANGEA and AENIUM cooperate in the development of 3D-printed drive systems with the GRCop-42. NASA

The rocket engine manufacturer PANGEA Aerospace and the additive manufacturing technology company AENIUM have entered into an industrial partnership to develop and industrialize 3D-printed propulsion systems.

The systems are based on NASA’s GRCop-42 copper alloy, which was specially developed for rocket engines, and are developed and commercialized for the European aerospace market.

The partners believe their agreement will ensure a breakthrough in the development of complex combustion devices while also spurring the analysis of various advanced superalloys to meet demanding applications in the aerospace sector.

“This alliance will drive the next generation of reusable rocket engines and also give the EU market the opportunity to upgrade their combustion devices with the most innovative materials science and skilled industrial additive manufacturing,” said Miguel Ampudia, CIO of AENIUM.

The agreement aims to enable a breakthrough in the development of complex combustion devices such as aerospikes. Photo via AENIUM.

Development of the PANGEA aerospike engine

Conventional rocket engines usually have a bell nozzle that constricts expanding gases. Alternatively, a basic aerospike shape resembles that of an upside-down and upside-down bell. When the reconfigured bell is “unpacked” and laid flat, it is known as a linear aerospike. This type of engine design has been researched by NASA for decades because of its theoretical ability to provide more efficient thrust during vehicle flight and therefore greatly improve performance.

Aerospike engines could potentially provide up to 15 percent efficiency improvement over current rocket engines, be reusable, and could be manufactured quickly and at very low cost.

Although several aerospike engines were developed during this period, one has never flown due to technical difficulties historically associated with design for cooling and manufacturability. PANGEA, however, claims to have taken steps to resolve these issues thanks to the introduction of additive manufacturing techniques and new materials such as GRCop-42.

The company is developing its DemoP1 liquid oxygen and methane aerospike engine demonstrator, The DemoP1, which is designed to characterize and validate several key technologies for future aerospike developments. As part of its new agreement with AENIUM, the company will demonstrate the use of methane as a fuel, its manufacturing methodology for the engine and its dual regenerative cooling system.

PANGEA has already begun the preliminary design of its larger, commercially available aerospike engine and subsystems, which will benefit from the partnership with AENIUM.

A hot fire test of the DemoP1 is planned for the third quarter of 2021.

Signing of the agreement between PANGEA Aerospace and AENIUM.  Photo via AENIUM.Signing of the agreement between PANGEA Aerospace and AENIUM. Photo via AENIUM.

Bringing the “Holy Grail of Drive” closer

One of the key breakthroughs, according to PANGEA, is NASA’s GRCop-42 material, a highly conductive, high-strength alloy developed for use in high heat flux applications such as liquid rocket engines and other combustion devices. The 3D printable copper-chromium-niobium superalloy was specially developed by NASA to withstand the harsh environments of regeneratively cooled combustion chambers and nozzles due to its oxidation resistance.

Leveraging the material properties of GRCop-42 through additive manufacturing has increased the ability to build a functional and economically viable aerospike engine much faster and at much lower cost than previously possible, the company believes.

“AENIUM is the perfect partner to move faster into our roadmap and we are very excited to sign an agreement with an innovative additive manufacturing start-up like this one,” said Adrià Argemi, CEO of PANGEA Aerospace. “The agreement with AENIUM goes beyond the exclusive shared capabilities in Europe for GRCop-42, a copper material specially developed for rocket engines. AENIUM also brings unmatched expertise and R&D capacity in processes and materials.

“GRCop-42 based alloys are one of the key solutions that allow us to solve the thermal challenges of an aerospike jet rocket engine. We are now ready to offer this unique capability to the entire European aerospace sector. “

The companies will work together to develop and commercialize PANGEA’s DemoP1 aerospike propulsion system ahead of the hot test later this year. AENIUM will bring its expertise in materials science and additive manufacturing processes, while PANGEA will bring its expertise in drive system design.

The companies will combine 3D printing, complex post-processing, and GRCop-42 to further develop and commercialize propulsion systems so that more startups in the industry can access them. The agreement also opens the door to a joint service agreement between the two partners to deliver cutting edge materials to the European aerospace industry.

Orbex 'Stage 2 Prime missile.  Image via Orbex.Orbex ‘Stage 2 Prime missile. Image via Orbex.

Advances in 3D printed rocket engine

Competition in the private space sector is fierce to develop and launch the next generation of launch vehicles, satellites and rocket engines. This year alone, there have been several advances made by companies and startups that are active in this field and use 3D printing technologies to design and manufacture their products.

In February, the British aerospace company Orbex commissioned the EOS group company AMCM to build the largest industrial 3D printer in Europe that can quickly print rocket engines itself. Aerospace company Rocket Lab announced plans to go public for $ 4.1 billion and also unveiled its next-generation, reusable 3D-printed rocket, Neutron.

Meanwhile, propulsion system maker Aerojet Rockdyne’s RL10 rocket engine has successfully passed NASA’s hot-fire tests, rocket maker Relativity Space has raised an additional $ 650 million to boost production of its new 3D-printed Terran R rocket, and private air and space company Launcher has partnered with VELO3D and Ansys to optimize the design of a performance-critical component in its E-2 rocket engine.

Recently, aerospace propulsion system developer Agile Space Industries acquired Tronix3D 3-D printing service bureau to optimize the performance of its propulsion systems, which will be used for NASA and SpaceX’s upcoming lunar missions.

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The picture presented shows that the agreement seeks a breakthrough in the development of complex combustion devices such as aerospikes. Photo via AENIUM.

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