While NASA has big plans for 3D printing, so do private companies. The effort to bring the private sector into space exploration has been so far successful, with the SpaceX Dragon, carrying over a ton of cargo, smoothly docking with the International Space Station about a week ago. Pushing this already blazing pace, a partnership between DIYROCKETS, Sunglass, and Shapeways has been formed to launch the 3D Rocket Engine Design Challenge.
Cofounder and Co-President of DIYROCKETS, Darlene Damm, had this to say about the private leap into space: “As NASA’s push towards private and public innovation finally comes to fruition and technology is now more affordable than ever, we see this as a greenfield opportunity to truly redefine space design and technology.” It’s funny to think about the seemingly pitch blackness of space as a “greenfield opportunity,” but in the world of nano-satellites, it’s a real avenue to pursue. The satellites weigh between a few ounces to a few pounds, so it doesn’t take as much to get them into space. Plastic hobbyist rockets will go over 2,000 feet up, and to get to Low Earth Orbit, which is the objective of the challenge, contestants will have to clear that hobbyist distance a mere 300 times. To go beyond a few thousand feet, composites and metals must be used, which is why the contest recommends reviewing the Shapeways guidelines for printing in stainless steel.
“This competition focuses on promoting innovation and lowering costs through the collaborative design process, understanding the business cases, and exploring the possibilities of 3D printing for the space industry.“ When they say “lowering costs” they mean it. The winner will receive $5,000, which is nice, until you consider what’s previously been spent to get things into space. The design is also required to be open source, meaning a lot of for-profit companies will end up using the design to send their satellites into space, and the rocket engine designer won’t be entitled to any of those astronomical profits. Still, it’s a totally worthy cause.
If you’re interested in entering, you’ve got until April 13 to get your draft in, and you’ll be judged by minds from MIT, TED, and NASA on the following criteria: (Technical) Can the engine carry a payload of 0.5kg to 10kg into Low Earth Orbit safely and without melting/exploding, (Collaboration) Did you submit your design for critique and implement any useful advice, and (Business Case) Is the design cost effective and competitive with what’s already available. That all sounds pretty easy, right? Well, get to it then.