Students at Monash University have launched manufacturing into the Space Age using revolutionary 3D printing technology to design, build and test a world-first rocket engine.

State Minister for Industry and Employment Wade Noonan met PhD students at the Woodside Innovation Centre at Monash University on 11 September to get a first-hand look at the Aerospike Rocket Engine. The State Government also announced a $2m grant to develop an additive manufacturing hub so Victoria’s small-to-medium enterprises can benefit from this world-leading technology.

“Victoria is the home of manufacturing and a world-class centre for 3D printing technology. We make things, and we’re proud of it,” said Noonan. “This world-leading 3D printed rocket engine is a tremendous example of why Victoria has the most advanced manufacturing capabilities in the nation.”

Also known as 3D printing, additive manufacturing revolutionises how components are made. From industrial tooling to customisable and intricate orthopaedic implants – the additive manufacturing process is faster, cost efficient and more complex than traditional methods.

The Aerospike Rocket Engine project brings together local researchers working in aerodynamics and combustion and experts from Monash spin-out company Amaero Additive Manufacturing. Two years ago, Monash researchers and their partners were the first in the world to print a jet engine, based on an existing engine design. That work led to Amaero winning contracts with major aerospace companies around the world.

Monash researchers subsequently accepted a challenge from Amaero to design a rocket engine, Amaero printed their design, and the researchers test-fired it, all in just four months. The project team took the idea from concept to physical testing in only four months and developed an engine capable of generating enough thrust to lift five adults.

“Traditional bell-shaped rockets, as seen on the Space Shuttle, work at peak efficiency at ground level,” says Marten Jurg, an engineer with Amaero. “As they climb the flame spreads out reducing thrust. The aerospike design maintains its efficiency but is very hard to build using traditional technology. Using additive manufacturing we can create complex designs, print them, test them, tweak them, and reprint them in days instead of months”.

The Aerospike Rocket Engine team has formed a company, NextAero, to take their ideas to the world.