rockets make rainbows

I’ve been working at Stennis for a little over a a year now, and have worked at various NASA facilities off and on for the last 6 years, and whenever a friend asks me about “rocket fuel” they do it in hushed tones with the occasional glance over their shoulder. As if it were some national secret, and that if it were, I would somehow have the 411 and give them the insider scoop so long as they keep it on the DL… Well you are all in luck! I am going to let you in on a little secret, ssshhh! Ok, come a little closer to your computer monitor, we don’t want your coworkers overhearing what you’re reading. Ready?… Most rocket fuel is almost entirely liquid oxygen and/or liquid hydrogen. Surprise! 

So while LOX and LH2 are amazing and beautiful, what many people think about is that rockets are powered by water. Yup. Water. Granted you have to separate it, and bring it down to liquid temperatures, but nonetheless these aren’t exotic materials; they are completely sustainable and clean burning.

So the cloud you see forming as the exhaust of a rocket engine is literally a could. Not to mention that when we are testing rocket engines we quench the flame with nearly 1 million gallons of water per minute. So after any test on site it rains immediately after, usually right on top of all of the people standing around watching it; and when the conditions are right, the exhaust creates rainbows. So there you are, probably the coolest way to make a rainbow.

ROCKETS MAKE RAINBOWS

here is a video I took of the RS-68 test yesterday that led to the above image.

And here are a few more photos in case you want more 😉

and for those that are curious, this is what it sounds like inside the building where I work during the test.

Everything you need to know about 3D printing rockets

As you may have heard, about a week ago Marshall Space Flight successfully tested a rocket injector that was 3D Printed. Well actually the first tests were earlier than that, but everyone took notice when the video posted below (and others taken at the same time) were posted.

What you might not know is why this is just now a “breakthrough” when 3D printing in metal isn’t new. Shapeways has been printing metal pieces since 2009, and the technology was first patented in the 80s. The biggest difference is that traditionally 3D printing in metal has been done using Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) whereas this injector was printed in Inconel using Selective Laser Melting (SLM). If the difference isn’t clear… in SLS the laser fuses the metal powder together through a localized reaction, whereas SLM essentially melts (or welds) all of the metal in the part. There is a little bit of research going into the difference in properties etc. between the two. The two processes are being improved daily, but everything I have read or seen shows SLM to be stronger (though only marginally in most materials). If your curious, Marshall uses the M2 Cusing by Concept Laser. So the technology specific to printing this part is very new. Marshall just started testing out the technology a year ago.

Enter SpaceX. Yesterday SpaceX posted the video below showing off there cool Iron Man inspired 3D model viewing technology. At the end of the video they print a part to scale in inconel using SLS (specifically using this printer).  So SpaceX posts a video where they 3D print an inconel engine part and everyone is too distracted by the shiny sci-fi-esque toy  to really grasp that, while the call the part a “prototype”, it is a functional prototype and they could (& probably will) make the end product the exact same way. The only thing left to be seen (from my perspective) is if the SLS printed parts will hold up just as well as the SLM parts.

Oh, and did I mention that one of the SLM printed rocket injectors is currently at Stennis and I have been given the opportunity to handle it and give feedback? If you know me, you know how much I love both 3D printing and rockets, so of course I jumped at the opportunity. I wanted to tweet/post pictures at the time but I was told no :/   I guess I’ll settle for writing this post, even though I have to leave out some of my coolest thoughts/opinions on the matter 😉

NASA Asks Universities For Early Stage Innovation Tech Proposals

April 02, 2013

David E. Steitz

Headquarters, Washington

202-358-1730

david.steitz@nasa.gov

RELEASE: 13-095

NASA ASKS UNIVERSITIES FOR EARLY STAGE INNOVATION TECH PROPOSALS

WASHINGTON — NASA is seeking innovative, early-stage space technology proposals from accredited U.S. universities that will enable NASA’s future missions and America’s leadership in space.

Proposals are sought for science instruments, cryogenic propellant storage for long-duration space exploration, optical coatings for astrophysical pursuits, oxygen recovery for life support systems, and to improve our understanding of and protection from near-Earth asteroids.

Each of these space technology areas requires dramatic improvements over existing capabilities. New early stage, or low technology readiness-level, technologies could mature into tools that solve the hard challenges facing NASA’s future scientific and human spaceflight missions. Researchers should propose unique, transformational space technologies that address specific topics found in this solicitation.

“Space technology is the underpinning of all of NASA’s future missions,” said Michael Gazarik, NASA’s associate administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate in Washington. “NASA’s collaboration with the National Research Council and the agency’s recent Strategic Space Technology Investment Plan have helped us identify areas where new, cross-cutting space technologies are needed to enable our future missions. Now we’re reaching out to American universities to tap into the nation’s best and brightest minds to help solve these tough technology problems.”

This solicitation requests proposals on five topic areas. The first topic area seeks new instrument technologies for the exploration of planetary bodies within our solar system. Innovative technology advances are needed to support the instruments that scientists will need to better understand the history, climates, evidence of past life and future potential habitability of planets and moons within the solar system.

Spaceflight architectures for future human space exploration beyond low-Earth orbit will require technologies and capabilities not available today, such as long duration storage of cryogenic propellants in a zero gravity environment. Under a second topic area for this solicitation, NASA is particularly interested in proposals regarding how to mature fundamental experimental and computational solutions to address the challenges of cryogenic storage of liquid hydrogen.

Through a third topic area for this solicitation, NASA is seeking advances in optics technologies to enable the challenging science measurements that may contribute to the understanding of the first moments of the universe, the characterization of galaxy evolution over time and the characterization of newly found exoplanets.

As future exploration missions extend beyond low-Earth orbit, vehicles and extraterrestrial surface habitats housing astronauts will need to be highly reliable and self-sufficient; the opportunity for resupply of consumables diminishes the farther from home you go. The fourth topic area of this solicitation seeks novel technologies that will help close the atmosphere revitalization loop aboard spaceships and surface habitats during long duration space missions. New technologies must have the potential to significantly increase the oxygen recovery rate beyond the current state of the art.

Under a final topic area, NASA is seeking proposals for new technologies to better understand and protect our planet from near-Earth asteroids. Early stage technologies that will help with characterizing, understanding, and planning how to mitigate the threat of near-Earth asteroids are of great interest. These efforts are important for the sustainability and future of our home planet.

NASA expects to make approximately 10 awards this fall, based on the merit of proposals received. Each award will be made for one year with an additional year of research possible. The typical annual award value is expected to be approximately $250,000. Second-year funding will be contingent on the availability of appropriated funds and technical progress. Only accredited U.S. universities may submit proposals to this solicitation. Notices of intent are due by April 29 with proposals due May 21.

To view the Early Stage Innovation NASA Research Announcement and information for submitting proposals, visit:

http://go.usa.gov/25De

The solicitation is a part of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, which is innovating, developing, testing and flying hardware for use in NASA’s future missions. For more information about NASA’s investment in space technology, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/spacetech