A liquid-fuel rocket engine is just about the hardest thing anyone could ever build. There are considerations for thermodynamics, machining, electronics, material science, and software just to have something that won’t blow up on the test rig. The data to build a liquid engine isn’t easy to find, either: a lot of helpful info is classified or locked up in one of [Elon]’s file cabinets.
[Graham] over at Fubar Labs in New Jersey is working to change this. He’s developing an open source, 3D printed, liquid fuel rocket engine. Right now, it’s not going to fly, but that’s not the point: the first step towards developing a successful rocket is to develop a successful engine, and [Graham] is hard at work making this a reality.
This engine, powered by gaseous oxygen and ethanol, is designed for 3D printing. It’s actually a great use of the technology; SpaceX and NASA have produced 3D printed engine parts using DMLS printers, but [Graham] is using the much cheaper (and available at Shapeways) metal SLS printers to produce his engine. Rocket engines are extremely hard to manufacture with traditional methods, making 3D printing the perfect process for building a rocket engine.
So far, [Graham] has printed the engine, injector, and igniter, all for the purpose of shoving oxygen and ethanol into the combustion chamber, lighting it, and marveling at the Mach cones. You can see a video of that below, but there’s also a few incredible resources on GitHub, the Fubar Labs wiki, and a bunch of pictures and test results here.
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Robert’s Rocket Project has been going on for a long time. It has been around so long that you can go all the way back to posts from 2001, where he talks about getting his first digital camera! The site is dedicated to his pursuit of liquid fueled rocket engine building. It’s a great project log and he has finally come to the point where he will be testing his first flight vehicle soon.
His latest project is a 250lbf regeneratively cooled engine. It uses kerosene as the fuel, and liquid oxygen as the oxidizer. The neat thing is he utilizes the temperature change of the liquid oxygen expanding to cool the chamber and nozzle before being burned. This allows for a very efficient and powerful combustion of the fuel. He has some videos of testing it on his site, we just wonder why he doesn’t host them on YouTube or something…
Anyhow, there’s more than enough info on his site to try and recreate some of his experiments, but perhaps you should start here instead: How to Design, Build and Test Small Liquid-Fuel Rocket Engines.
[Graham] over at FUBAR labs took it upon himself to build a rocket engine. This isn’t a simple solid-fuel motor, though: [Graham] went all out and built a liquid-fueled engine that is ignited with a spark plug.
The build started off with a very small ‘igniter’ engine meant to shoot sparks into a larger engine. This engine is fueled with ethanol and air – not the best fuel for a rocket engine by a long shot but save and cheap enough to do a few serious experiments with.
To test out this small engine, [Graham] made a test platform out of aluminum extrusion to remotely control the fuel and oxidizer valves. The valves are controlled by an Arduino and XBee for remote operation and a telemetry downlink for measuring the fluid flow into the engine.
After he had some experience with pressure, plumbing, valves, and engines, [Graham] upgraded his fuel and oxidizer to gaseous oxygen and ethanol. With proper safety protocol in place, [Graham] was able to a series of three 3-second burns less than a minute apart as well as a single burn lasting nearly 5 seconds.
Even though [Graham] eschewed the usual stainless steel construction of rocket engines (his engine is milled out of aluminum), he demonstrated it is possible to build a real liquid-fueled rocket engine at home.
Most any rocket engine you’d find on a spacecraft – save for solid or hybrid rockets – use an engine system that’s fairly complex. Because of the intense heat, the fuel is circulated around the chamber before ignition giving a motor its regeneratively cooled nomenclature. This arrangement leads to a few complicated welding and machining processes, but surprisingly these obstacles can be overcome by simply printing a rocket engine on a 3D printer.
The current engine is quite small, but still fueled just like any other proper rocket engine that makes it into Earth orbit. The fuel is propane, the oxidizer is NO2, and the entire device is ignited with an automotive spark plug. Of course this was an expensive proposition; a motor with 12 pounds of thrust cost somewhere in the range of four figures.
Printing a rocket engine has a few advantages over traditional manufacturing techniques. [Rocket Moonlighting] explains that traditional techniques (mills, lathes and other heavy equipment) are bound by labor, material, and time. The costs of printing a rocket engine are only bound by the volume of the finished piece, meaning the most expensive engine per unit of thrust is the one that will fit in your pocket; scaling up means more efficiency for less cost.
There are a few videos up after the break showing the engine in action at full throttle, a few start and restart tests, and a test that involved throttling the engine. It’s an extremely impressive piece of kit, and hopefully [Rocket Moonlighting] will release the CAD source so we can make our own.
EDIT: [RM] tells me his engine cost less than $2000 to make. If just 10 people wanted their own engine from a ‘group buy,’ the price would drop by more than half. If you’d like your own 3D printed rocket engine, you might do well to drop [Rocket Moonlighting] a line.
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While we’re reluctant to say it for fear of being misinterpreted, the new liquid fuel rocket engine being built by Copenhagen Suborbitals is one of the most impressive, daring, and nearly the sexiest machine we’ve ever seen. Although the engine hasn’t been fired yet, [Peter Madsen], Chief launch vehicle designer at Copenhagen Suborbitals, gives an amazing 18-minute-long rundown of the function of each and every tank and tube of the TM65 in this video.
When the TM65 engine begins its firing sequence, valves attached to tanks of alcohol and liquid Oxygen are opened. The Oxygen pours directly into an injector manifold that atomizes the liquid in the combustion chamber, while the alcohol makes a much longer trip down to the engine bell, flowing between the double wall of the chamber and nozzle for cooling. Once the alcohol and Oxygen in the combustion chamber ignite, two gigantic tanks of Helium are opened and the gas is forced down to a heat exchanger at the end of the nozzle, increasing the temperature and pressure of the Helium. The Helium is then routed to the tanks, pressurizing them and forcing fuel and oxidizer into the combustion chamber at 40 liters per second. This entire process happens in only eight seconds; after that, the rocket attached to the TM65 will be on its way upward.
We’re not going to say the TM65 is the best engine ever seen on Hackaday; we’ll leave you to decide that. We can’t wait for the video of the test fire to hit the Internet, though.
When the idea of an engine hacks theme was being kicked around at Hack a Day, the subject of rocket engines was one of the first to come up. There was a problem though; solid rocket motors are far too common to be interesting, and even hybrid rocket engines are becoming passé. We’ve never seen a liquid-fuel rocket build before, so that’s what this roundup evolved into.
First up is [Robert Watzlavick], who has been has been building liquid fueled engines for the last decade. He started out with an uncooled kerosene/LOX whose death is seen in the title pic for this post. Lately he’s been working on a monster of an engine that is projected to deliver over 1,000 Newtons of thrust. As with many of the early rockets that launched man into space, [Robert] uses kerosene and liquid oxygen for fuel. This man knows his stuff.
Next up is a ‘kit’ liquid fuel rocket, the SS67B-3, that’s based on the German WWII Taifun missile. This engine is about as basic as you can get. There’s one fuel tank that holds both the Hydrogen Peroxide oxidizer and gasoline fuel. Both are blasted into the combustion chamber with pressurized gas. we found a write-up on this kit with some good pictures, but no video.
If high pressures, glowing metal, and huge flames pique your interest, there’s also a fabulous e-book (PDF warning) available that is a reprint of How to Design, Build and Test Small Liquid-Fuel Rocket Engines by [Leroy J. Krzyck]. This book was originally written in 1967, but lathes and mills haven’t changed that much over the past 44 years. Why not give it a go? There’s still plenty of time to complete the build before the 100th anniversary of Goddard’s first flight.