Revitalizing the Historic RL10 Rocket Engine with 3D Printing

The RL10 rocket engine, a stalwart in space exploration for nearly sixty years, is undergoing a significant upgrade via additive manufacturing. Aerojet Rocketdyne, the engine’s manufacturer, is leveraging 3D printing to enhance the engine’s functionality and production efficiency. This development marks a new phase in the RL10’s illustrious history, which began in 1962.

The latest iteration, dubbed the RL10C-X, is set to debut on a Vulcan rocket in 2025. This new variant aims to substantially reduce costs and increase production capacity. While the current RL10C model, used in ULA’s Atlas V and soon the Vulcan rocket, incorporates 3D printing for its injector plate, the RL10C-X will expand this application to the entire thrust chamber. These advancements are anticipated to yield more efficient performance.

Revitalizing the Historic RL10 Rocket Engine with 3D Printing
Old rocket engine – new lease of life, thanks to AM. (Image Credit: ULA)

Aerojet’s production of the RL10 is also set to increase, rising from 16 units annually to potentially 40, to meet the demands of various space missions, including the Atlas V, Vulcan, and Artemis programs. This increase aligns with the company’s strategy to enhance the engine’s capabilities and manufacturing process.

Historically, the RL10 has been a pioneering engine in the U.S., being the first to use hydrogen and oxygen with an expander cycle. Its primary application has been in the Centaur second stage on Atlas and Titan rockets, and it is also a part of the Delta IV’s upper stage and NASA’s Space Launch System. The engine’s design has remained largely unchanged over the decades, showcasing its enduring reliability and effectiveness in space travel.


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