Space Exploration Technologies Corp (SpaceX) is inspiring a huge amount of attention with its awesome efforts to create innovative technologies to forward mankind’s exploration of space. And now, the organization has just announced that it has completed qualification testing for the SuperDraco thruster, an engine that will power the Dragon spacecraft’s launch escape system and enable the vehicle to land propulsively on Earth — or another planet — with great accuracy.
The SuperDraco engine chamber is manufactured using 3D printing — the direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) process to be precise. Previously, it was standard practice for launch escape systems to be jettisoned after the first few minutes of launch, however, SpaceX’s launch system is integrated directly into the Dragon spacecraft itself. Each SuperDraco produces up to 16,000 pounds of thrust. Eight SuperDraco engines built into the walls of the spacecraft can produce a phenomenal 120,000 pounds of axial thrust to carry astronauts to safety should an emergency occur during launch. The engines also have the ability to deep throttle, which provides astronauts with enormous power and precision control.
The SuperDraco is an advanced version of the engines currently used by SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft to manoeuvre both whilst in orbit and during the dramatic process of re-entry at extremely high temperatures through the Earth’s atmosphere. SuperDracos will be used on the crew version of the Dragon spacecraft as part of the vehicle’s launch escape system; they will also enable the propulsive landing feature of the craft.
Elon Musk, Chief Designer and CEO said: “Through 3D printing, robust and high-performing engine parts can be created at a fraction of the cost and time of traditional manufacturing methods. SpaceX is pushing the boundaries of what additive manufacturing can do in the 21st century, ultimately making our vehicles more efficient, reliable and robust than ever before.”
The first flight demonstration of the SuperDraco will be part of the upcoming test under NASA’s Commercial Crew Integrated Capabilities (CCiCap) initiative.