Rocket Factory In-A-Box Missile Propulsion Anytime, Anywhere

Revolutionary design and component manufacturing techniques, together with state-of-the-art digital engineering tools, will enable missile propulsion anytime, anywhere. (Credit: AFRL)

AFRL’s Rocket Factory In-a-Box (RFIB) program is developing a mobile, containerized Solid Rocket Motor (SRM) production capability by aggregating revolutionary design and component manufacturing techniques, thus enabling rapid SRM manufacture in a small footprint with the flexibility to tailor performance to specific missions. This approach contrasts with current industry practices requiring significant infrastructure and resources (time and money), which often results in design constraints.

Key aspects of the program include:

  • Ingredient Synthesis: Precision generation of propellant ingredients with continuous microfluidic reactors leads to unprecedented property control.
  • Resonant Acoustic Mixing: Vibrational propellant ingredient homogenization reduces processing time up to 20X with lower property variance.
  • Additive Manufacturing: 3D printing of fuel grains enables compositional gradients, integration of performance-enhancing features, and in-situ curing.
  • Case-on-Propellant Processing: Direct installation of rocket structural case onto propellant accelerates production and eliminates manufacturing tooling.
  • Automation: Robotic staffing of factory eliminates need for human labor, improves process control, and enhances operational safety.
  • Non-Destructive Evaluation: The use of comprehensive imaging tools aids in construction of digital twins for manufactured rockets.
  • Digital Engineering: Computational design of requisite rocket aids in prediction of as-built system and provides governance over automated fabrication.

Among the benefits expected to be derived from the program are:

  • Agile, resilient, and persistent logistics for solid rocket propulsion that support requirements for 21st century competition and conflict.
  • Rapid design, development, and fielding of new systems that will help the U.S. meet emerging threats.
  • Flexible manufacturing will expand the design space and performance of solid rocket propulsion.

Current rocket propulsion systems of air-launched missiles can take years to enter full rate production due to iterative design, build, and test methods practiced by industry. Furthermore, the U.S. industrial base has consolidated into just a few manufacturing centers for bombs and missiles. Meanwhile, the capabilities of adversaries have significantly improved in the last decade.

Mobile, small, and clandestine manufacturing centers for SRMs and weapons ensure continuity of necessary force application capabilities for warfighters by augmenting the resilience of logistics chains during conflict, answering raw material obsolescence, increasing survivability, mitigating unpredictability, and improving lethality depth within enemy threat rings. It is expected that RFIB will prove beneficial to several key major commands including Air Combat Command, Air Mobility Command, Air Force Special Operations Command and Pacific Air Forces.