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Purdue University chooses Elementum 3D to produce TADPOLE propulsion system

The Purdue Space Program-Active Controls (PSP-AC) team students selected A6061-RAM2 for their vertical take-off and vertical landing (VTVL) technology

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At Purdue University, undergraduate students from the Purdue Space Program-Active Controls (PSP-AC) team are using AM to advance vertical take-off and vertical landing (VTVL) technology – aided by Elementum 3D. The team’s current project satisfies the milestones of the Collegiate Propulsive Lander Challenge (CPLC) which has challenged student teams to create self-landing rockets. This challenge gave rise to PSP-AC’s TADPOLE propulsion system.

“This team operates under a greater vision to prepare the current and future classes of engineers to be more attuned to the current technological trends in space exploration,” said Pavit Hooda, Project Manager and Co-founder of PSP-AC.

Purdue University chooses Elementum 3D to produce TADPOLE propulsion system. The PSP-AC team students selected A6061-RAM2.

The TADPOLE propulsion system is part of PSP-AC’s journey of creating a bipropellant hopper vehicle. Such a vehicle requires a propulsion system with long burn times, a regenerative cooling circuit, and thrust vector control capabilities. To produce a thrust chamber assembly (TCA) that can achieve these extreme specifications with complex geometries and precise tolerances, PSP-AC chose Elementum 3D to print the aluminum combustion chamber, cooling circuit, and nozzle in a single component using laser powder bed fusion.

“We are honored to offer our team’s AM knowledge, expertise, and technology to inspire all the students involved in the Purdue Space Program to push the limits of conventional thinking and print the first ever A6061-RAM2 thrust chamber assembly,” said Dr. Jacob Nuechterlein, Founder and President of Elementum 3D.

At a chamber pressure of 250 psi and a thrust class of 550 lbf, PSP-AC determined that Elementum 3D’s advanced RAM technology was necessary for making this project a reality. The aluminum alloy A6061-RAM2 material provides the proper yielding characteristics required for the operating conditions of TADPOLE and offers an extended lifespan to the TCA enabling the team to include more tests in their test campaign – ultimately allowing them to learn more from this experience of designing and testing a propulsion system.

PSP-AC selected aluminum to print the thrust chamber assembly because of its great thermal properties, lightweight, and low cost. The team was reportedly enthusiastic to discover that Elementum 3D’s aluminum alloy does not have the drawbacks found with other AM aluminum powders, such as a rough surface finish. The thrust chambers printed with A6061-RAM2’s had a very smooth surface finish, which is good for heat transfer, and better thermal and mechanical properties than the competing alloys.

Another challenge of 3D printing a TCA is the post-processing and depowdering of the internal channels. The PSP-AC team worked closely with Elementum 3D engineers to develop viable solutions and dimensions to allow for adequate powder removal. Additionally, the PSP-AC team worked closely with Elementum 3D’s engineers to get detailed material property information on the alloy, which was something they reportedly struggled to get from other vendors. This allowed them to understand and model the performance and functionality of the TCA and ultimately compare it to experimental data generated during engine testing.

“The whole process is a great engineering challenge and learning experience that was made possible by Elementum 3D’s support. PSP-AC will use these simulations and experimental results to design their next engine,” said Andrew Radulovich, Chief Engineer at PSP-AC.

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Edward Wakefield

Edward is a freelance writer and additive manufacturing enthusiast looking to make AM more accessible and understandable.

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