It takes a huge amount of time and money for NASA to build a rocket. But research by two LSU professors and their graduate students helps make the process faster, cheaper and more efficient.
The team, led by Professors Shengmin Guo and Michael Khonsari, is helping NASA get better data for use in "additive manufacturing," a process that uses high tech powders, lasers and 3-D printers to assemble parts in layers.
Additive manufacturing allows NASA to create parts for half the cost in some cases — and do it 2 to 10 times faster, the researchers say.
But rocket parts are extremely complex and have to be built to rigorous — and extremely precise — standards. The materials have to be able to withstand massive, rapid changes in pressure and temperature.
That means a great deal of testing and data collection is necessary.
"Someone needs to characterize the behavior of the material properties and these chambers always undergo fluctuations in pressure and temperature," Khonsari said. "After you understand the nature of these properties as they change with temperature, then one has to ask how they will stand any type of a fatigue that will occur."
Guo said the data he and Khonsari provided NASA had the rocket-builders coming back for more.
“The data is so valuable that NASA started asking us to test more and we pretty much tested all the possible alloys NASA produced for rocket engines," he said. "We generate a unique dataset so NASA engineers who are looking for the data can have a good understanding and run some simulation software so they will know how to design the rocket engine components."
Guo thinks the data they are providing will be essential to the future of aerospace design.
"Without our data, it would be very hard for NASA to come up with reliable data," he said. "Our contribution is that we at LSU are the first to come up with a comprehensive dataset so that NASA and aerospace companies can utilize it to design those critical engine components.”