J. VanDomelen Mil/Aero Blog

J. VanDomelen holds a Bachelor of Science in Information Systems and myriad certifications from Microsoft, Cisco, and CompTia in varying facets of computer software, hardware, and network design and implementation. He has worked in the electronics industry for more than 12 years in varied fields, including advanced systems design of highly technical military and aerospace computer systems, semiconductor manufacturing, open source software development, hardware design, and rapid prototyping.

30 September, 2014

NASA scientists finalized testing of the most complex rocket engine parts ever produced with 3D printers. Aerospace organizations are increasingly investigating the potential of additive manufacturing, using 3D printers to save time and money over traditional manufacturing processes.

The testing involved using the rocket engine parts to produce 20,000 pounds of thrust. A NASA spokesperson describes the test: “Designers created complex geometric flow patterns that allowed oxygen and hydrogen to swirl together before combusting at 1,400 pounds per square inch and temperatures up to 6,000 degrees Fahrenheit.”

NASA scientists credit additive manufacturing with delivering a wealth of benefits. “Having an in-house additive manufacturing capability allows us to look at test data, modify parts or the test stand based on the data, implement changes quickly, and get back to testing,” affirms Nicholas Cases, the NASA propulsion engineer responsible for leading the testing. “This speeds up the whole design, development, and testing process and allows us to try innovative designs with less risk and cost to projects.”

NASA officials are crediting additive manufacturing with helping engineers to design and produce small 3D printed parts quickly, to build and test a rocket injector with a unique design, to test faster and smarter, and to apply modifications to the test stand or the rocket component quickly.


To date, Marshall Space Flight Center officials say, NASA engineers have tested complex injectors, rocket nozzles, and other components. The end goal is to reduce the manufacturing complexity, time, and cost of building and assembling future engines. “Additive manufacturing is a key technology for enhancing rocket designs and enabling missions into deep space,” NASA officials say.

This geek is in love with this technology! Additive manufacturing with help relieve our dependence on foreign launch platforms since the retirement of the much missed Space Shuttle program.

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30 September, 2014

SpaceX this month logged its fifth successful mission to the International Space Station (ISS) and had a hand in yet another historic first: delivering the first 3D printer in space.

SpaceX launched its fifth journey to the ISS and fourth official Commercial Resupply (CRS) mission to the orbiting lab early this week, on Sunday, 21 September 2014 from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

SpaceX CRS-4 is the fourth of at least 12 missions to the ISS that SpaceX will fly for NASA under the CRS contract. The SpaceX Dragon spacecraft will remain at the ISS for four weeks, returning to Earth in mid-October for a parachute-assisted splashdown off the coast of southern California.

“Dragon is the only operational spacecraft capable of returning a significant amount of supplies back to Earth, including experiments,” according to a SpaceX spokesperson. “Under the CRS contract, SpaceX has restored an American capability to deliver and return significant amounts of cargo, including live plants and animals, to and from the orbiting laboratory.”

Dragon delivered more than 5,000 pounds of supplies and payloads, including materials to support 255 science and research investigations during Expeditions 41 and 42.

space trucker

This cargo mission includes a number of firsts. For the first time, Dragon carried live mammals (20 rodents) in NASA’s Rodent Research Facility, developed at NASA’s Ames Research Center to study the long-term effects of microgravity on mammalian physiology. SpaceX’s Dragon also delivered the 3-D Printing In Zero-G Technology Demonstration, the first 3D printer ever in space.

This geek loves SpaceX and their passion, drive, and innovation. They are making out of this world research possible.

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29 September, 2014

Engineers at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, have again logged an historic achievement. They have harnessed additive manufacturing (3D printing) to produce complex rocket engine parts faster and at a lower cost than with traditional manufacturing.

NASA engineers worked with two different providers: Solid Concepts in Valencia, California, and Directed Manufacturing in Austin, Texas. Each company printed one injector, a very complex part, with additive manufacturing techniques, hardware, and materials.

“One of our goals is to collaborate with a variety of companies and establish standards for this new manufacturing process,” Marshall Propulsion Engineer Jason Turpin explains. “We are working with industry to learn how to take advantage of additive manufacturing in every stage of space hardware construction, from design to operations in space. We are applying everything we learn about making rocket engine components to the Space Launch System and other space hardware.”

before and after rocket injector

NASA scientists subjected the 3D-printed parts to a series of tests on Earth—a necessity prior to asking astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) to rely on 3D printing and 3D-printed parts in the depths of space. NASA personnel tested the two rocket injectors for five seconds.

Five seconds? It’s a valid question. After all, when we’re talking about printing a part or component in space, five seconds doesn’t seem to be an adequate test time. Consider, though, that the additive-manufactured parts were each tested while producing 20,000 pounds of thrust. Well, alright. Now this space geek might just be sufficiently impressed. How about you?

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29 September, 2014

The Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-25 engine powered NASA’s Space Shuttle and will power the upcoming Space Launch System (SLS). The SLS is a heavy-lift, exploration-class rocket currently under development to take humans beyond Earth orbit and Mars.

NASA engineers recently produced the most complex rocket engine parts in the agency’s history using additive manufacturing, or 3D printing. Three-dimensional printers are a popular choice today for producing digital prototypes in a wealth of industry verticals, including a variety of computer graphics (CG) market segments, such as visual effects (VFX) and game development.

NASA engineers are using 3D printing to output final parts and components, not just prototypes. Astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) will not only use 3D-printed parts, but also print parts and components as needed and on-demand with additive manufacturing; even so, NASA scientists needed to test 3D-printed parts thoroughly down here on Earth before deploying them in space.

3d print rocketdyne

“We wanted to go a step beyond just testing an injector and demonstrate how 3D printing could revolutionize rocket designs for increased system performance,” explains Chris Singer, director of the Engineering Directorate at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. “The parts performed exceptionally well during the tests,” he reveals.

NASA officials anticipate that additive manufacturing will save both time and money—a significant amount of each, in fact. Using traditional manufacturing methods, engineers would need to manufacture and then assemble 163 individual parts; conversely, with 3D printing technology, only two parts were required, enabling engineers “to build parts that enhance rocket engine performance and are less prone to failure,” NASA officials say.

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27 September, 2014

Late last month, engineers at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, completed testing the most complex rocket engine parts ever designed by the space agency and printed with additive manufacturing, or three-dimensional (3D) printing.

The highly complex part NASA engineers designed is a rocket engine injector, which is responsible for sending propellant into the engine, and which they crafted with design features that take advantage of 3D printing. As NASA officials describe the process, the intricate, digital design was loaded into the 3D printer’s computer. The 3D printer then built each part by outputting layers of metal powder and fusing the layers together with a laser in a process called selective laser melting.

By employing the additive manufacturing process, rocket designers were able to produce an injector with 40 individual spray elements. If manufactured traditionally, each individual spray element would need to be developed separately and then married with the core unit. Instead, the 3D printer enabled the engineers to save time and streamline the production process by printing the injector and all spray elements as a single component.

3D Rocketdyne RS25

The part was similar in size to injectors that power small rocket engines and similar in design to injectors for large engines, including the RS-25 engine from Aerojet Rocketdyne, with headquarters in Sacramento, California. The Rocketdyne RS-25 rocket engine, also referred to as the Space Shuttle Main Engine (SSME), burns cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellants. The SSME, having performed well on NASA’s Space Shuttle, is scheduled to be used on the much-anticipated Space Launch System (SLS), the Shuttle’s successor.

This geek is excited to see the amazing potential of this amazing technology being realized.

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29 August, 2014

On 22 Aug. 2014, Arianespace in France launched two satellites into orbit onboard a Russian Soyuz launch vehicle under contract with the European Space Agency (ESA) for its Galileo program. News that the launch vehicle failed to inject Galileo satellites 5 and 6 into the correct orbit rocked the military and aerospace (mil/aero) community this month.

“Observations taken after the separation of the satellites from the Soyuz [rocket] for the Galileo Mission show a gap between the orbit achieved and that which was planned,” according to a statement by Arianespace. Moreover, “they have been placed on a lower orbit than expected.”


The European Commission (EC), the executive body of the 28-nation European Union (EU), has requested that Arianespace and the European Space Agency (ESA) provide full details of the incident, as well as a schedule and an action plan to rectify the problem.

Arianespace, in conjunction with the European Space Agency (ESA) and the European Commission, appointed an independent inquiry commission, chaired by Peter Dubock, former ESA Inspector General, to investigate. “Its mandate is to establish the circumstances of the anomaly, to identify the root causes and associated aggravating factors, and make recommendations to correct the identified defect and to allow for a safe return to flight for all Soyuz launches from the Guiana Space Center (CSG),” according to an Arianespace representative.

Arianespace Chairman and CEO Stéphane Israël explains that the Board was appointed in conjunction with ESA and the European Commission with the support of the space agencies from France (CNES), Germany (DLR), and Italy (ASI), as well as a team of European experts.

This mil/aero geek is anxious to hear the results, as are many in the EU and the aerospace community.

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29 August, 2014

Arianespace in France launched two satellites on the Russian Soyuz ST rocket. Telemetry data soon revealed that the spacecraft were placed in elliptical (rather than circular) orbit and in a lower orbit than anticipated; as a result, the satellites are operationally redundant, aerospace engineers indicate.

Arianespace officials found that an anomaly occurred during “the flight phase involving the [Russian] Fregat upper stage, causing the satellites to be injected into a noncompliant orbit.” Specifically, “complementary observations gathered after separation of the Galileo FOC M1 satellites on Soyuz Flight VS09 have highlighted a discrepancy between targeted and reached orbit,” according to Arianespace officials.

Arianespace Chairman and CEO Stéphane Israël launched an inquiry into the event to “determine the scope of the anomaly and its impact on the mission” in conjunction with the company’s Russian Soyuz partners in the program (Russian space agency Roscomos and manufacturers RKTs-Progress and NPO Lavotchkine) and ESA and its industrial partners.

Roll Out BAF to ZL 3

“Our aim is of course to fully understand this anomaly,” Israël explains. “Everybody at Arianespace is totally focused on meeting this objective. Starting Monday, Arianespace, in association with ESA and the European Commission, will designate an independent inquiry board to determine the exact causes of this anomaly and to draw conclusions and develop corrective actions that will allow us to resume launches of Soyuz from the Guiana Space Center (CSG) in complete safety and as quickly as possible. The board will coordinate its work with Russian partners in the Soyuz at CSG program. Arianespace is determined to help meet the European Union’s goals for the Galileo program without undue delay.”

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28 August, 2014

Europe is in the process of assembling a civilian-operated satellite navigation system, designed to deliver greater precision than the U.S.’s Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite constellation, to the tune of 5.4 billion Euro.

The full project calls for 30 modern satellites to be positioned precisely into orbit over the next few years. This week, however, the European Space Agency (ESA) hit a snag when two satellites intended for the Galileo circular constellation were launched into the wrong positions.

The ESA contracted Arianespace SA, a French company founded in 1980 as a commercial space transportation company (officials claim it is the very first, in fact), to launch the satellites into orbit. So, what went wrong?

An initial report from Arianespace indicates that on 22 August 2014, at 9:27 am local time in French Guiana, a Soyuz ST rocket lifted off with the first two satellites in the Galileo constellation.


“The liftoff and first part of the mission proceeded [normally], leading to release of the satellites according to the planned timetable, and reception of signals from the satellites,” the report reads. Following the separation of the satellites from the Russian-made Soyuz ST rocket, data from telemetry stations operated by the ESA and the French space agency CNES indicated that the satellites were not in the expected orbit.

“The targeted orbit was circular, inclined at 55 degrees with a semi major axis of 29,900 kilometers,” the report continues. “The satellites are now in an elliptical orbit, with eccentricity of 0.23, a semi major axis of 26,200 km and inclined at 49.8 degrees.”

This and other military and aerospace (mil/aero) geeks are now wondering, “What now?”

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28 August, 2014

European Space Agency (ESA) officials in Paris reported this week an error—specifically, an orbital injection anomaly—in the launch of its two latest satellites under the Galileo program.

Galileo, Europe’s global navigation satellite system, is intended to provide accurate, guaranteed global positioning that is under civilian control. It is interoperable with the United States’ Global Positioning System (GPS) and Russia’s Glonass (which stands for Globalnaya navigatsionnaya sputnikovaya sistema) global satellite navigation system.

Galileo is a safety-critical project designed to enable myriad high-tech applications, including safely landing aircraft, guiding cars, and running trains/rail services. The goal is to deliver dual frequencies as standard, real-time positioning accuracy down to the meter range, guaranteed service availability under all but the most extreme circumstances, and alerting within seconds of any satellite failure.


The Galileo system when fully deployed will consist of 30 satellites—including 27 operational satellites and three active spares—positioned in three circular Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) plane.

To date, four satellites are functional in orbit and have validated the Galileo concept in space and on Earth. Following this In-Orbit Validation (IOV) phase, additional satellite launches are being made until Initial Operational Capability (IOC) is achieved (roughly in 2015 or 2016).

Once the IOC phase is reached, The Open Service, Search and Rescue and Public Regulated Service will be available with initial performances; the constellation will be built-up beyond that, enabling new services to be tested and made available to achieve Full Operational Capability (FOC).

The 30 satellites were intended to be launched in orbit according to a “carefully-optimized constellation design,” according to ESA officials; yet, something has already gone awry. This mil/aero geek has more on this high-profile news story next.

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27 August, 2014

SpaceX has been making a big splash recently with the release of the revolutionary Dragon Version 2. Never before has this military and aerospace (mil/aero) geek seen such a futuristic design that is fully functional. The new Dragon v2 is a major leap forward in manned spaceflight. It features many new, advanced, and life-saving features that this geek will highlight as we explore the Dragon v2 in this blog series.

The SpaceX Dragon Version 2 is designed to deliver a revolutionary, reusable, manned space capsule. The spacecraft is capable of carrying up to seven astronauts and landing virtually anywhere terrestrially; and, after refueling, it can be ready for reuse. In this way, Dragon v2 eliminates the need for an ocean landing, which is a major challenge in myriad interplanetary destinations such as Mars or the moon which lack water on the surface.

The capsule interior looks as though it came straight out of a science-fiction film, with seven seats against a metal, geometric background. Without a doubt, this geek’s favorite aesthetic in the entire capsule is the avionics panel. The central control panel features four, wide-format (landscape) monitors with touchscreen pilot controls. The entire panel swings out of the way to facilitate easy, unobstructed capsule entrance and egress.


Safety comes first, so for the first time in history, the Dragon sports a safety system that provides a means of escape throughout the entire launch, from Earth to orbit. Additionally, eight SuperDraco engines are built into the side of the spacecraft and can produce up to 120,000 pounds of axial thrust to carry the passengers to safety in the event of an emergency. SpaceX officials explain that, “this system also enables Dragon v2 to land propulsively on Earth or another planet with the precision of a helicopter”—an impressive feat for a space capsule.

The Dragon currently resupplies the International Space Station under a $1.6 billion Cargo Resupply Services contract with NASA. This geek looks forward to a time when the U.S. can again launch astronauts into space, rather than relying on outsourced rockets or another government-funded launch system (i.e., Russian Federal Space Agency’s Soyuz or NASA’s defunct Space Shuttle program). More on that next.

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