3D printed rocket laying on grass

3D Printed Rocket’s Features Are Out Of This World

We’re delighted to see the progress on [Foaly]’s 3D-printed Cortex 2 rocket, and the latest build log is full of beautiful pictures and design details. Not only is this rocket jam-packed with an efficiency of electronics and smart design, but it almost seems out to single-handedly prove that 3D-printing is far from the novelty some think it is.

Electronics and wires packing the fuselage of a model rocket
Cable management and component layout is far from a trivial task in a rocket like this.

There is so much going on in the Cortex 2 that it simply wouldn’t be possible to do everything it does without the ability to make one’s own parts exactly to specification. In fact, there is so much going on that cable management is its own challenge.

Everything in the build log is interesting, but the design of the parachute system is of particular note. [Foaly]’s original Cortex rocket met it’s end when the parachute failed to deploy, and Cortex 2 is determined to avoid that fate if it can. For the parachute and any cords and anchors, a careful layout maximizes the chances of a successful deployment without anything tangling, but there are some extra features as well. The panel covering the parachute is mounted with the help of four magnets, which are mounted with opposing polarities. This provides an initial repulsing force when the door is unlocked by a servo, which should help wind immediately rush in to the opening to blow the panel away. The recovery system even has its own dedicated microcontroller and can operate autonomously; even if software for everything else crashes, the parachute will still get deployed. Locking connectors for all cables also ensure that acceleration forces don’t dislodge any contacts.

Everything about the rocket looks great, and the amount of work that has gone into the software is particularly evident. The main controller even has an interactive pre-flight checklist, which is a fantastic feature.

The last time we saw the Cortex 2 it was still only about half built, and we can’t wait to see how it performs. Rocketry is a field that has benefited greatly from things like 3D printing, the availability of highly-integrated electronics, and even such things as a rocket design workbench for FreeCAD. Better tools enable better work, after all.

Three-Stage Thrust Vectoring Model Rocket With Tiny Flight Computers

Flying a thrust-vectoring rocket can be a challenge, and even more so if you stack multiple stages and a minimalist flight computer on top of it all. But [Joe Barnard] is not one to shy away from such a challenge, so he built a three stage actively guided rocket named Shreeek.

[Joe] is well known for his thrust-vectoring rockets, some of which have came within a hair’s breadth of making a perfect powered landing. Previous rockets have used larger, more complex flight computers, but for this round, he wanted to go as small and minimalist as possible. Each stage of the rocket has its own tiny 16 x 17 mm flight computer and battery. The main components are a SAM21 microcontroller running Arduino firmware, an IMU for altitude and orientation sensing, and a FET to trigger the rocket motor igniter. It also has servo outputs for thrust vector control (TVC), and motor control output for the reaction wheel on the third stage for roll control. To keep it simple he omitted a way to log flight data, a decision he later regretted. Shreeek did not have a dedicated recovery system on any of the stages, instead relying on its light weight and high drag to land intact

None of the four launch attempts went as planned, with only the first two stages functioning correctly in the test with the best results. Thanks to the lack of recorded flight data, [Joe] had to rely on video footage alone to diagnose the problems after each launch. Even so, his experience diagnosing problems certainly proved its worth, with definitive improvements. However, we suspect that all his future flight computers will have data logging features included.

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Image of detonation engine firing

Japanese Rocket Engine Explodes: Continuously And On Purpose

Liquid-fuelled rocket engine design has largely followed a simple template since the development of the German V-2 rocket in the middle of World War 2. Propellant and oxidizer are mixed in a combustion chamber, creating a mixture of hot gases at high pressure that very much wish to leave out the back of the rocket, generating thrust.

However, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has recently completed a successful test of a different type of rocket, known as a rotating detonation engine. The engine relies on an entirely different method of combustion, with the aim to produce more thrust from less fuel. We’ll dive into how it works, and how the Japanese test bodes for the future of this technology.

Deflagration vs. Detonation

Humans love combusting fuels in order to do useful work. Thus far in our history, whether we look at steam engines, gasoline engines, or even rocket engines, all these technologies have had one thing in common: they all rely on fuel that burns in a deflagration. It’s the easily controlled manner of slow combustion that we’re all familiar with since we started sitting around campfires. Continue reading “Japanese Rocket Engine Explodes: Continuously And On Purpose”

WWII Hydrogen Peroxide Rocket 3D Print

[Integza] was reading about a World War II-era rocket plane created near the end of the war by the Germans. The Heinkel He-176 wasn’t very practical, but he was intrigued when he read the rocket was cold and combustionless. He did a little research and found the engine was a monopropellent engine using hydrogen peroxide. This led to some interesting experiments and a 3D printed rocket engine, as you can see in the video below.

Usually, liquid-fueled rocket engines have a fuel and an oxidizer that mix and are either ignited or, in a hypergolic rocket, spontaneously combust on contact. With a monopropellent, the thrust comes from a chemical reaction between the propellant — hydrogen peroxide, in this case, and a catalyst.

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3D Printing Steel Parts At Home Via Special Filaments

Rocket engines are great for producing thrust from fire and fury, but they’re also difficult to make. They require high-strength materials that can withstand the high temperatures involved. [Integza], however, has tried for a long time to 3D print himself a working rocket engine. His latest attempt involves printing an aerospike design out of metal.

Even steel couldn’t hold up to the fury of the rocket exhaust!

The project relies on special metal-impregnated 3D printer filaments. The part can be printed with a regular 3D printer and then fired to leave just the metal behind. The filament can be harsh, so [Integza] uses a ruby nozzle to handle the metal-impregnated material. Processing the material requires a medium-temperature “debinding” stage in a kiln which removes the plastic, before a high-temperature sintering process that bonds the remaining metal particles into a hopefully-contiguous whole. The process worked well for bronze, though was a little trickier for steel.

Armed with a steel aerospike rocket nozzle, [Integza] attempts using the parts with his 3D printed rocket fuel we’ve seen before. The configuration does generate some thrust, and lasts longer than most of [Integza]’s previous efforts, though still succumbs to the intense heat of the rocket exhaust.

Overall, though, it’s a great example of what it takes to print steel parts at home. You’ll need a quality 3D printer, ruby nozzles and a controllable kiln, but it can be done. If you manage to print something awesome, be sure to drop us a line. Video after the break.

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Hybrid Rocket Engine Combines Ceramic Aerospike With 3D Printed Fuel

[Integza] has worked hard over the last year, crafting a variety of types of rocket and jet engine, primarily using 3D printed parts. Due to the weaknesses of plastic, all of which conflict with the general material requirements for an engine that gets hot, he has had less thrust and more meltdowns than he would have liked. Undeterred, he presses on, now with a hybrid rocket aerospike design. The goal? Actually generating some thrust for once!

The latest project makes the most of what [Integza] has learned. The aerospike nozzle is 3D printed, but out of a special thick ceramic-loaded resin, using a Bison 1000 DLP printer. This allowed [Integza] to print thicker ceramic parts which shrunk less when placed in a kiln, thus negating the cracking experienced with his earlier work. The new nozzle is paired with a steel rocket casing to help contain combustion gases, and the rocket fuel is 3D printed ASA plastic. 3D printing the fuel is particularly cool, as it allows for easy experimentation with grain shape to tune thrust profiles.

With the oxygen pumping, the new design produces some thrust, though [Integza] is yet to instrument the test platform to actually measure results. While the nozzles are still failing over a short period of time, the test burns were far less explosive – and far more propulsive – than his previous efforts. We look forward to further development, and hope [Integza’s] designs one day soar high into the sky. Video after the break.

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Look Out Below! China’s Heavy-Lift Rocket Due For Uncontrolled Reentry Within Days

On April 28th, China successfully put the core module of their Tianhe space station into orbit with the latest version of the Long March 5B heavy-lift booster. This rocket, designed for launching large objects into low Earth orbit, is unique in that the 33.16 m (108.8 ft) first stage carries the payload all the way to orbit rather than separating at a lower altitude. Unfortunately, despite an international effort to limit unnecessary space debris, the first stage of the Long March 5B booster is now tumbling through space and is expected to make an uncontrolled reentry sometime in the next few days.

The massive booster has been given the COSPAR ID 2021-035-B, and ground tracking stations are currently watching it closely to try and determine when and where it will reenter the Earth’s atmosphere. As of this writing it’s in a relatively low orbit of 169 x 363 km, which should decay rapidly given the object’s large surface area. Due to the variables involved it’s impossible to pinpoint where the booster will reenter this far out, but the concern is that should it happen over a populated area, debris from the 21 metric ton (46,000 pound) booster could hit the ground.

The Tianhe core module.

This is the second launch for the Long March 5B, the first taking place on May 5th of 2020. That booster was also left in a low orbit, and made an uncontrolled reentry six days later. During a meeting of the NASA Advisory Council’s Regulatory and Policy Committee, Administrator Jim Bridenstine claimed that had the rocket reentered just 30 minutes prior, debris could have come down over the continental United States. Objects which were suspected of being remnants of the Long March 5B were discovered in Africa, though no injuries were reported.

China’s first space station, Tiangong-1, made an uncontrolled reentry of its own back in 2018. It’s believed that most of the 8,500 kg (18,700 lb) burned up as it streaked through the atmosphere, and anything that was left fell harmlessly into the South Pacific Ocean. While small satellites are increasingly designed to safely disintegrate upon reentry, large objects such as these pose a more complex problem as we expand our presence in low Earth orbit.