TWI, Airbus Defence and Space, Nammo Westcott Ltd, ESR Technology and the University of Birmingham are partnering on a new project to investigate the use of Powder Metallurgy in astrospace applications. The project, ‘Powder Metallurgy Based Materials for High Wear Resistance, High Hardness and High Temperature,’ has a budget of €600,000 and is scheduled to run for twenty-four months.
According to the partners, it 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 mechanisms for deploying, controlling and rotating payloads or mission equipment.
Under the partnership, Airbus Defence and Space and Nammo Westcott will identify applications and components that could be enhanced through the use of PM-based materials and ESR Technology will provide knowledge on materials suitable for high wear resistance, high hardness and high temperature. ESR operates the European Space Tribology Laboratory, which has been under contract to the European Space Agency since 1972.
These partners will also provide information on current materials, conventional fabrication components and any operating limitations so that the potential for using a PM-based approach can be assessed. TWI and the University of Birmingham will then work with the partners to develop and test suitable PM-based materials for high wear resistance, high hardness and high-temperature use.
The potential advantages of PM for astrospace include the technology’s capability for producing complex shapes without extensive machining and with a reduction in material wastage. This also makes it possible to avoid small imperfections from the machining process, which can lead to part failure. The fine grain microstructure of PM-produced parts also has the potential to enhance material strength when compared to conventional processes.
The partners stated that PM 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.