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Powder Metallurgy for Astrospace Applications

A new collaborative project to investigate powder metallurgy (PM) applications for astrospace has been initiated with the formation of a partnership between TWI, Airbus Defense and Space, and Nammo Westcott Ltd, ESR Technology, and the University of Birmingham.

The 24-month project, titled "Powder Metallurgy Based Materials for High-Wear Resistance, High Hardness and High Temperature," has a budget of approximately $750,000 (€600,000). The project seeks to develop systems to provide more efficient equipment for use by the next generation of spacecraft during launch and through longer in-orbit missions. Some of the proposed improvements would be in areas such as higher ISP Liquid Apogee Engines and thrusters as well as in the mechanisms for deploying, controlling, and rotating payloads or mission equipment.

While Airbus Defence and Space and Nammo Westcott will identify applications and components that could be enhanced through the use of PM-based materials, ESR Technology will offer knowledge related to materials for high-wear resistance, high hardness, and high temperature. This knowledge will be provided via ESR Technology’s operation of the European Space Tribology Laboratory, which has been under contract to the European Space Agency since 1972. The partners will also give information on current materials, conventional fabrication components, and any operating limitations so that the potential for using a PM-based approach can be assessed.

With the conventional parameters and applications having been highlighted and assessed, TWI and the University of Birmingham will work with the partners to develop and test suitable PM-based materials.

The use of powder metallurgy will allow for complex shapes to be produced without extensive machining and with a reduction in material wastage. PM also avoids the possibility of small imperfections from a machining process leading to failure of the final product, while the fine-grain microstructure of PM-produced parts often leads to an enhancement of material strength when compared to conventional processes. Powder metallurgy should also provide cost-saving solutions with a shorter lead time as well as offering the opportunity to produce functionally graded materials with a variety of properties, such as a softer core surrounded by a harder functional surface.

Applications could include mechanisms, ultra-stable structures, mirrors, gears and bearings, telescopes, detectors, optical elements, nozzles and valves, as well as damping structures.


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