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Live dashboard and 3D printed engine

Published on:
February 27th 2018

Dedicated home for updates and a 3D printed engine prototype.

"Where can we follow you," people have asked.  Welcome to mission dashboard.

Our updates have migrated from Pythom labs to a dedicated space for reports and ongoing updates of the various project stages.

As for the latest, here goes.

Hello AstereX!

The math alone took 3 months, the computer-aided design another 2. The actual manufacturing took one day.

Around Christmas in lovely Malibu, we unwrapped our very first rocket engine.

Double-walled with fuel channels running down the inside shell. A fuel and an oxidizer pipe attached to the outside, a hollow manifold on top and far down at the bottom plate - a tiny, fixed pintle barely peeking out of a jacket.

All this, 3D printed in one piece.

It's amazing how much of our work is computer-first these days. Developing technology for the extremes a decade back we would make a rough drawing and start on the hardware sooner rather than later. Times have changed.

We had expected a plastic toy but the engine was surprisingly sturdy. And beautiful. Was it working, though?

Off to the water hose and a first cold flow test. The water circulated freely on one side, but not the other. Design flaw, we figured.

With a heavy heart, we cut open our hard-earned engine at Hexlab maker space in LA.

(Our former home btw, TechShop in SF, was no more but there is hope).

Peeking inside the engine interior we found the defect was actually in the manufacturing process. The sintering had deposited some residue in the would-be propellant pipe.

Cleaning it out and rushing water through the entire structure again we were rewarded. Turned out the most important feature of the design worked like a charm.

The pintle, designed and 3D printed with accuracy down to a tenth of a millimeter, delivered the water in a fine, strong and well-distributed spray. If this was actual propellant mix we would have had a promising situation.

Far away, in the mountains

We had planned for a second print of the model but, encouraged, now decided to fast forward to the next step. The real deal this time, with a pintle that is movable. It will make the engine throttable, allowing control of landing and ascent on Mars.

Hauling out our Arduino and Raspberry Pi, we are presently hiding out in the Sierras, buried deep in electronics, servo motors and the wild world of mechanical gears. With that, we have also promptly arrived at robotics for space assembly, sooner than intended.

3D printed rocket engines are no longer the stuff of sci-fi. As demonstrated by Rocketlab in New Zealand only last month, this is the future of affordable rocket tech.

Rocketlab's Electron rocket delivered a payload to orbit at an amazingly low cost, with engines that are almost entirely 3D printed. Scott Manley has the details. At an event not long ago in Colorado Springs, I recall company founder Peter Beck claiming his team can make a new rocket every week. An industry game changer.

As for the name of our own little rocket engine, it's a portmanteau of the two words "Astra" (star) and T. Rex (dinosaur). With a nod to The Adventures of Asterix, a tiny but smart warrior who got amazing powers after imbibing a magic drink. Dashboard

A private manned mission to Mars; PythomSpace is developed in the spirit of early Earth and Space exploration style (light, fast and low cost). Using edge technology, takeoff is planned within years, rather than decades. A documentary on the project is currently filmed by World of Wonder Productions (Los Angeles, Ca).

Tina Sjogren
Tina Sjogren
CEO & Founder
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Sunset over our Mojave firing range, a sort of Everest BC for Space. The guys here once helped people like Elon Musk and Burt Rutan. Now it's our spot for practical learning and hands-on experiments.

Field work. Tina hunting lava tubes in Sierra mountains. Close to a heated core and protected from elements, tunnels and buried caves could prove our best bet for camps on Mars and other rocky planets.