Solid Rocket Motors Get Boost from 3D Printing

Northrop Grumman Corporation, an aerospace and defense technology firm, has successfully tested a new solid rocket motor incorporating 3D printing for various nozzle components and tooling. This test, part of the Solid Motor Annual Rocket Technology Demonstrator (SMART Demo) project, was conducted at their Promontory, Utah test facility.

The project, completed in under a year, demonstrated several technological advancements, including alternate manufacturing materials and processes, which led to a 75% reduction in lead times. Additionally, Northrop Grumman developed a new, cost-effective solid rocket motor propellant suitable for cold temperatures, along with diversifying their supplier base and materials to mitigate supply chain disruptions.

Solid Rocket Motors Get Boost from 3D Printing
Northrop Grumman’s SMART Demo static test at the company’s Promontory, Utah, test area. (Image Credit: Northrop Grumman)

This successful test underscores the evolving role of AM in the aerospace sector, particularly in enhancing the efficiency and agility of rocket motor production. The SMART Demo aims to validate new technologies, materials, and processes in solid rocket motor development to reduce both time and cost while boosting performance. The initiative includes the design, development, construction, and testing of new rocket motors and their tooling.

Northrop Grumman plans to conduct SMART Demos annually, signaling a sustained commitment to advancing solid rocket motor technology and propulsion systems. The company is currently managing the concurrent development of five new motors and anticipates a significant increase in production capabilities by 2030, supported by the construction and modification of multiple facilities. The future for the industry seems poised for further exploration of AM capabilities in rocketry, potentially leading to more agile, cost-effective, and reliable manufacturing solutions.

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