Hyperganic — a German software company — developed a 3D-printed rocket engine prototype, one designed wholly by artificial intelligence, reports Dezeen.
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Traditional rocket engines consist of individually-designed parts that go together, but the AI-designed demonstrator is 3D printed into one continuous piece. Not just the outer layer, but the combustion chamber where oxidizer and fuel are burned, and also the surface channels that circulate fuel to cool the chamber and prevent it from overheating.
"In a rocket, the cooling channels are generally welded onto the combustion chamber, which through wear and tear can cause errors and explosions," said Duy-Anh Pham, Hyperganic's design director, according to Dezeen.
"The components are engineered separately, so the design is not actually holistically optimized to be the best, most efficient it can be," he said. "Our engine in contrast is made up of only one piece, that has been designed to have the lowest weight and most effective cooling, and so the highest possible performance for a given rocket," he added, according to Dezeen.
In creating the engine, the rocket scientist began by assigning the core features of a rocket engine — the shape of the combustion chamber and the crucial cooling performance.
Instead of translating the design specifications into CAD files, its expressed as formulas on an Excel sheet in a format legible to Hyperganic's algorithm.
Based on mathematical formulas, the algorithm uses the data to generate a final geometry; from the base to the tip.
"We compare the process to growing rather than designing," said Pham to Dezeen.
"You're telling the algorithm what you need to do and then the algorithm is kind of growing the object with the performance you had in mind, with the specifications. So the process doesn't create a blueprint, but the DNA for an object," he added, to Dezeen.
After this, the information is transferred to an industrial 3D printer, where it becomes real, composed of an aerospace nickel alloy called Inconel 718.
"We are able to print in different material densities, a method which has not been used in rocket design so far," said Pham, to Dezeen.
"So the inner part is very solid, while towards the outside the structure becomes more porous to save on weight. Every extra pound counts," he added.
While the world comes to grips with the coronavirus pandemic, it's important to not forget that the worlds of advanced aerospace engineering, 3D printing, and AI will still be there when it's over. In fact, they're working right now, despite the roar of the global pandemic.