Digital Manufacturing

Cutting edge materials for space

Updated on Thursday 12 January 2023, 9:24 AM

3 Minute Read

It’s no secret that the space industry has taken off again. Private companies such as SpaceX, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin have revolutionised the industry by competing to win the new space race, using their freely available budgets to accelerate product development. As the ever-present pressure of improving performance meets the new requirement of making space cheaper to access, one area of focus has been material selection.

Material science constantly pushes the boundaries of what is possible in product development. Some heavier materials are being developed to improve the performance of products in space where they are subject to stresses of volatile temperatures, excessive forces and even impact with debris. On the contrary, lightweight materials can decrease the cost of launch and lead to more sustainable space travel, with ambitions of a reusable space vehicle. So what materials are making an impact in the space industry?

 

PPSU (Polyphenylsulfone or Radel R-5000)

PPSU (Polyphenylsulfone or Radel R-5500) is a popular resin in the space industry due to its superior toughness and hydrolytic stability (resistance to temperature and humidity) compared to other high-temperature engineering grade resins.

Other key considerations include:

  • Flame retardancy
  • Resistance to out-gassing in a vacuum
  • High and low-temperature performance (maintaining strength and resistance to cracking).
  • Strength
  • Thermal Stability

 

Aluminium

Aluminium is a crucial material in the space industry due to its light-weighting properties. It is often used as a building material for space shuttles, other space equipment, and engines.

Aluminium 2024 and 7075 are commonly used alloys in the aerospace and space industry.

2024 – Has a high yield strength, excellent fatigue resistance and good machinability. Often used in aircraft structural applications.

7075 – has a good balance of properties required for space applications, mainly where high static loads occur and low temperatures (cryogenic). Applications include fittings, gears, shafts and valves. It is often used in military applications.

 

PEEK (Polyetheretherketone)

With its high thermal mechanical strength and resistance properties such as creep resistance, wear resistance, hydrolysis resistance (even against super-heated steam) and toughness, PEEK is an excellent option for space applications. Some of the materials’ key applications include gears, valve seals, friction bearings and pump housings. PEEK also often finds use in critical engine parts due to its ability to withstand high temperatures.

In slightly less demanding applications – Acetal/POM (Polyoxymethylene) is an excellent engineering-grade plastic and is more economical. Commonly referred to by its trade name Delrin┬«.

 

Titanium

Titanium’s properties make it a popular choice for the space industry due to its high strength-to-weight ratio, good resistance to corrosion and high-temperature performance. Whilst aluminium has a lower density, Titanium’s specific strength (strength to weight ratio), low thermal conductivity, high strength at elevated temperatures and good corrosion resistance often make it the first choice in engines and airframes, amongst other things.

 

You can view all materials offered by Protolabs here, or alternatively you can contact one of our in-house experts to find out more about our material offering and any of our manufacturing services at customerservice@protolabs.co.uk or +44(0) 1952 683047.

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