DARPA grants Rocket Crafters research grant for 3D printed rocket fuel engine

Florida-based space company Rocket Crafters Inc (RCI) has been granted a $542,600 research contract by DARPA to develop its 3D printed rocket fuel engine.

With the eight month-long agreement, Rocket Crafters will be enlisted to design, build, and test the hybrid rocket engine.

RCI was granted a patent for its 3D printer-based hybrid rocket engine earlier this year. Using this proprietary technology, known as Direct-Digital Advanced Rocket Technology (D-DART), Rocket Crafters will build a 5,000 lbf peak thrust, throttle-capable rocket engine for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

The U.S Department of Defense recently announced an increase in funding for 3D printing and it looks that DARPA is already putting it to good use.

Rocket Crafters’ patented D-DART technology involves this hybrid engine. Image via Rocket Crafters.

Hybrid engines 

By combining 3D printed solid rocket fuel grains and liquid propellants, Rocket Crafters’ hybrid engine aims to bring together the benefits of both approaches to rocket engines.

The space company explains hybrid engines are beneficial over solid fuel engines in that they can be throttled and restarted. While also cheaper and quicker to develop than their liquid propellant counterparts.

Hybrid engines are also safer than both solid and liquid fuelled engines.

Despite these advantages, hybrid rocket engines have traditionally been problematic to manufacture. This led Rocket Crafters to use 3D printing and provide more stable and efficient fuel burning. The 3D printed solid propellant allows specific patterns to be made in the fuel grains which improves the combustion process.

The Intrepid-1 rocket that will incorporate patented 3D printed rocket fuel. Image via Rocket Crafters.

Demonstrating throttle 

Rocket Crafters explains as part of DARPA’s research agreement, it will test a flight-capable rocket motor with a specially constructed test stand at Florida’s Space Coast.

These tests hope to verify the D-DART technology by demonstrating throttle and capabilities of emergency engine shutdown.

DARPA is currently working on a number of other aerospace research projects. The Government agency has recently selected Boeing and Aerojet Rocketdyne to develop an experimental spaceplane and is also creating an advanced drone with Northrop Grumman.

While Rocket Crafters is set to implement the technology in its Intrepid-1 rocket which aims to be the first in a “family of safe, affordable hybrid-rocket-powered expendable launch vehicles.”

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Featured image shows Rocket Crafters testing its thrust engines. Image via Rocket Crafters.