Types of Sheet Metals for Spacecraft Components
By Space Coast Daily // May 13, 2023
Spacecrafts are not vehicles designed for “standard challenge”. They are designed to penetrate the atmosphere, at high speed while fighting the enormous force of gravity. That’s why they are carefully designed, down to the smallest elements.
This post will discuss in general, the types of sheet metal commonly used to make spacecraft components. Of course, this won’t be as detailed as scientific journals but at the very least, it will be able to give a big picture of the metals.
Basically, the material selection process for spacecraft components is not much different from the same process for commercial aircraft. There are factors such as thermal expansion, ductility, corrosion resistance, ease of fabrication, and many more. Yet every one of them was handpicked to a much higher standard.
Without further ado, let’s “look” at some of the common types of sheet metals used in the manufacture of spacecraft components. Just keep reading!
Types of Metal Sheets for Spacecraft Components
As the name suggests, these are alloys with a majority of the element aluminum with the addition of elements such as silicon, copper, iron, and magnesium, among others. Generally, the combination of all other elements is limited to 15% of the total mass. This alloy is known for its resistance to corrosion. Today, we can easily find aluminum alloys produced by common metal fabrication services.
Titanium alloys are popular for the manufacture of moving parts such as turbine blades because of their amazing specific strength. Actually, its main component (titanium) has poor wear resistance, and therefore other elements such as nitrogen are added mainly to the surface by a process commonly called nitriding.
Copper alloys are favored for their high electronic conductivity, important for a spacecraft with complex electronic systems. There are many elements involved, according to the needs. Its beneficial properties are easy to form, high resistance to corrosion, and of course very good conductivity to heat and electricity. This alloy tends to easily accept other elements for alloying such as iron, silver, zinc, and even gold.
Of course, Stainless Steel is best known for its rust resistance properties but there are other factors that always nominate it as one of the materials for making spacecraft components. They are resistant to extreme temperatures (hot and high), not friendly to pathogens and bacteria, easy to clean, easy to recycle, and tend to last longer even under consistent large mass pressure. You don’t want your spaceship components to break while working, do you?
This is a “less popular” alloy than those mentioned above. However, it is a Nickel-chrome super alloy with excellent high-temperature strength, excellent resistance to corrosion and oxidation, and creep resistance which are critical in the operation of ultra-high-pressure spacecraft engines. Stretched components are no longer usable and in many cases are a factor in machine failure.
Other sheet metals
They occupy important positions in the manufacture of aircraft components even though in proportion, they are used less. Among them are molybdenum, tantalum, germanium, and tungsten.
Factors Affecting Sheet Metal Material Selection for Spacecraft Components
Repeating what was briefly mentioned at the beginning of the article, there are several factors that underlie the selection of these metals as basic materials for making space components.
Design requirements and constraints
Spacecraft component design requirements are quite complicated and the constraints are more than those of other types of aircraft components. Complex designs, which are prone to failure, require materials that are ductile and malleable.
Environmental factors cannot be separated from any manufacturing process. In the case of spacecraft components, materials that do not support the growth of bacteria and other pathogens are a priority because even the slightest contamination can be harmful to all astronauts on board the spacecraft. An environment isolated for a long time is likely to be more susceptible, even to “trivial bacteria and pathogens” that are less harmful on land.
Manufacturing processes and capabilities
“Easier” manufacturing processes are certainly frowned upon and materials such as aluminum, copper, and Stainless Steel are easier to shape and design as desired without sacrificing design capabilities.
Cost and availability
The metal materials mentioned above are easy to find on the market with a variety of qualities. Not only that, they are also not expensive materials, except for Titanium of course. A production process that can involve as many “cheap materials” as possible can be considered a successful production process.
Sheet metals made from aluminum, copper, titanium, Stainless Steel, etc. are considered the best choice today because of their properties that support the ability of a machine to withstand intense workloads and resist corrosion and oxidation. Besides all that, they also tend to be easily fabricated and recycled so as to streamline the production process.