NASA’s new 3D printing alloy 1,000 times more durable than existing aerospace alloys


NASA, the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration, has developed an all-new metal 3D printing alloy specifically designed for use in high-performance aerospace systems.

Combining strength and durability, GRX-810 is an example of an oxide dispersion strengthened (ODS) alloy: a metal containing nanoscale oxide particles. The material can withstand temperatures in excess of 1090°C (2000°F), while being more malleable than existing aerospace alloys.

NASA intends to use its latest innovation to 3D print high-temperature components for systems such as rocket engines, saying it may ultimately lead to improved fuel efficiency and reduced manufacturing costs. maintenance. The agency has previously used the alloy to 3D print a turbine engine combustion chamber, a monolithic part designed to mix fuel and air.

Dale Hopkins, deputy project manager of NASA’s Transformational Tools and Technologies project, said, “The nanoscale oxide particles convey the incredible performance benefits of this alloy.

A 3D printed turbine engine combustor at NASA Glenn using GRX-810. Photo via NASA.

GRX-810: a miracle alloy?

Due to the harsh nature of outer space, NASA materials R&D efforts are aimed at enabling improved mechanical properties under extreme environmental conditions. GRX-810 is the epitome of this, as it offers “remarkable performance improvements” over many advanced alloys such as Inconel.

For example, at 1090°C, GRX-810 has twice the fracture toughness, three and a half times the ductility and malleability, and over 1000 times the durability under stress compared to “alloys”. peak “.

“This breakthrough is revolutionary for materials development. New types of stronger, lighter materials are playing a key role as NASA aims to change the future of flight,” adds Hopkins. “Previously, an increase in tensile strength generally reduced a material’s ability to stretch and bend before breaking, which is why our new alloy is remarkable.”

A new alloy development process

The impressive mix of characteristics of the GRX-810 is due, in large part, to NASA’s new alloy development process. In this case, 3D printing technology was combined with thermodynamic modeling to achieve the breakthrough performance of the material.

ODS alloys tend to be difficult and expensive to develop, so NASA researchers first had to use computer models to fine-tune the composition of GRX-810. The team relied on thermodynamic modeling to determine exactly which metals to combine and in what quantities. Next, the researchers used laser-based 3D printing to evenly disperse the nanoscale oxides into the alloy matrix, which provides the temperature resistance and strength properties.

According to Hopkins, the ODS development process typically takes years and is largely based on trial and error. Thanks to this new combination of computer modeling and 3D printing, the researchers managed to reduce the development time to just a few weeks. In the case of GRX-810, the thermodynamic modeling approach allowed the NASA team to discover the optimal alloy composition in just 30 simulations.

“Applying these two processes has dramatically accelerated the pace of development of our materials. We can now produce new materials faster and with better performance than before,” said Tim Smith, materials scientist at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland.

NASA Glenn Research Center.  Photo via NASA.
NASA Glenn Research Center. Photo via NASA.

The wider aerospace industry is no stranger to metal 3D printing technology. This month, propulsion system maker Aerojet Rocketdyne used 3D printing to optimize a key component of its quadruple RCS (Reaction Control System) thruster using design software from nTopology. The company’s new space engine part is now 67% lighter while reducing overall thruster production cost by 66% to enable faster and more sustainable lunar exploration.

Elsewhere, aerospace giant Boeing recently unveiled a new high-throughput 3D printing facility for the production and testing of small satellites. Spanning one million square feet, the facility is located in the world’s largest satellite factory in El Segundo and will be powered by Boeing’s Millennium Space Systems subsidiary. To increase rapid delivery times for small satellites, the facility will 3D print complete space-qualified satellite buses and is expected to be fully operational by the end of 2022.

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Featured image shows a 3D printed turbine engine combustor at NASA Glenn using GRX-810. Photo via NASA.


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