PythomSpace: Live Dashboard and 3D Printed Engine

We now have a dedicated digital home-spot and a 3D printed engine prototype.

“Where can we follow you,” people have asked. Welcome to our mission dashboard.

We have lifted our updates from Pythom labs, now showcasing various stages of the project here.

As for the latest, here goes.

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. Those times have changed.

Hello AstereX!

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

But 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 along the outer shell, 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.

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

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

With a heavy heart, we cut our hard-earned engine open at a makerspace 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 we were rewarded. Turned out the most important feature of the design worked like a charm.

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

We had planned for a second print of the model but, encouraged, we 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 thus buried in electronics, servo engines and the wild world of mechanical gears. With that we have arrived also at robotics for space assembly, sooner than intended.

CAD, CAM and 3D printing is the future for affordable rocket tech. This was demonstrated by Rocketlab in New Zealand only last month. The 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 CEO 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).

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).