Stainless steel in space missions – Today we are talking about space! And how stainless steel is making its way among the materials used to assemble spaceships for space exploration. But why the decision to abandon lightweight carbon compounds to develop stainless steel designs?
Stainless steel in space missions: here are the reasons.
For space missions, NASA and the like had always relied on materials such as aluminium alloys, magnesium or carbon fibre, in the past. What are the main reasons for choosing stainless steel for this particular type of application? Let’s look at them:
- Resistance to cryogenic temperatures
- Characteristics at high temperatures
- Ease of development
Today, where the goal is to get man to Mars, companies are working on spacecraft with different characteristics to those made so far.
Stainless steel in space missions: all the controversial aspects.
One of the most controversial aspects of this type of material choice is that of weight. Carbon composite is indeed much lighter than stainless steel. However, it is also true that weight is only half of the equation for a structural material. Another fundamental aspect is that of mechanical strength. In a normal environment, the carbon composite will perform better than stainless steel, but in extreme temperatures (e.g. cold liquids, cryogenic temperatures, re-entry temperatures, etc.), the latter will perform better than the former.
Using stainless steel in space: how much is it worth?
Overall, the cost of stainless steel compared to carbon composite is cheaper, just with respect to the scrap rate. There are not only economic advantages to choosing this material:
- High melting point (functional for the spaceship’s heat shield)
- Does not embrittle at cryogenic temperatures (due to the presence of chromium-nickel) avoiding the risk of fractures
- High resistance to corrosion (making it ‘reusable’ without the need for immediate maintenance).
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