Vector Space Systems, the private spaceflight company focused on launching microsatellites, just successfully tested an engine with a 3D printed injector. The injector is a component of Vector’s first stage 5K-lbf engine for the Vector-R, a launch vehicle for NASA. It was developed in partnership with NASA’s Science, Technology, and Mission Directorate (STMD) Flight Opportunities; Vector obtained a NASA grant to design and test the injector earlier this year.
The Tuscon-based company tested the engine last week in Mojave, California. According to a Vector spokesperson, the company also just landed a 25-year lease to build a rocket factory in Pima County, Arizona, which should break ground in the spring of 2017 and is expected to bring 200 jobs to the region over the next three years.
Vector-R, the vehicle for which the engine was being tested, can launch about 132 lbs of supplies into a low-Earth orbit. In keeping with Vector’s overall brand, it’s designed to be quick to set up and easy to move, and the success of this engine test is another step forward for that kind of business model.
STMD’s online explanation of itself is a rather overcooked bit of corporate blather, but basically the program facilitates partnerships between developing tech and entities which can advance it. Vector itself, whose website takes a more direct approach by greeting you with the words “A Revolution Is Upon Us / Opening Up The High Frontier To Innovators / And Vector Is Leading The Way,” differs from private spaceflight giants like SpaceX and Blue Origin in that it concentrates on smaller, cheaper projects that can therefore be realized in a shorter time frame and with less red tape.
The field of 3D printing is growing at a rate that sometimes seems to border on the absurd. In addition to rocket engine components, these days humans can 3D print entire robots (extremely cool); guns (not so cool); and alien suits (cool if you like the show Colony, I guess). Also, there’s a very good chance that within a decade you yourself will have one in your home.