“Supersonicis clearly one of the biggest buzzwords in the aerospace industry these days. Supersonic airlift is one that occurs at speeds between just above the sound barrier (Mach 1) and up to about five times that (Mach 5).Military worldwide (as well as the largest commercial airlines) seem to have developed a rough consensus among themselves that supersonic range is the target threshold for the next generation of aircraft performance.
At the same time, in one of the starkest examples of the techno-optimists’ constant attempts to leap over themselves, the hypersonic range has also received increasing attention in recent times. Defined as speeds greater than Mach 5 (about 3,500 mph at sea level), hypersonic “planes” (missiles) made headlines earlier this year, when the Pentagon announced that the US military had tested his “Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept”. (HAWC) in mid-March.
In turn, it was inevitable that research programs dealing with high-velocity combustion systems — such as the Slabaugh Group, at Purdue University’s Zucrow Labs – would continue to intensify their investigations into what happens in hypersonic environments. And, in doing so, researchers at these institutions are increasingly turning to solutions provided by metal additive manufacturing (AM) companies, such as BIKE3D.
Basically, the Purdue team used VELO3D’s Sapphire machine to build a rocket engine (“a really big 3D-printed burner,” according to Slabaugh) that was bolted into the ground with concrete. In practice, AM was an integral part of this process, mainly due to the need for researchers to test different fuel injectors in a wide variety of complex shapes.
In addition to the increased difficulty or even the impossibility of producing the same shapes with conventional manufacturing, AM has allowed the Slabaugh Group to print a large number of slightly different designs, as quickly as possible. In addition to VELO3D’s Flow Software system, the team hailed the minimal post-processing involved as a major benefit to the company’s hardware. As a result, researchers were able to select the best design for “large-scale hypersonic test experimentation capability” in just about 2 weeks. The Slabaugh Group plans to begin these tests this fall.
The indispensability of VELO3D to this project, in particular, perfectly illustrates the current trajectory of the company. Purdue has set the tone for R&D in a broader area, and that state of affairs looks likely to continue. Of course, this does not in itself mean that VELO will become a leader in AM applications for hypersonic technologies, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.
Images courtesy of Purdue University
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