In addition to the reasons why stainless steel has been chosen as a material for aircraft used in space missions, we would like to understand together which type of stainless steel is preferable to use. AISI 304 – AISI 301: let’s look at the differences together!
Aircraft for space missions: which stainless steel to choose?
Companies such as SpaceX have announced that there are two types of stainless steel with an austenitic structure that they use to build spacecraft: AISI 301 and AISI 310S. AISI 301 has very good mechanical properties in cryogenic applications, while AISI 310S is able to maintain its mechanical properties at very high temperatures (a shuttle in contact with the atmosphere can reach external temperatures of almost 1260°C). This type of stainless steel would make the heat shield lighter without requiring excessive maintenance. Recently, however, there has also been talk of using AISI 304 stainless steel.
AISI 304 and AISI 301: what are the differences?
Starting with the chemical composition, we can see that AISI 304 has a higher chromium and nickel content than 301, making the former more expensive than the latter. What about corrosion resistance? How do they react? AISI 301 tends to be slightly less resistant than AISI 304, precisely because of its lower chromium content and higher carbon content. However, in terms of tensile strength, 301 can withstand mechanical stress better than 304. However, it depends on the external environmental conditions (if the material is exposed to high temperatures, salt water, etc., 304 will be the most suitable choice).
AISI 304L: is it the same as 304?
These two alloys are very similar in terms of properties, in fact they differ by only 0.05% carbon content. A minimal difference between the two alloys:
- AISI 304 (used as welded in corrosive environments it would degrade quickly)
- AISI 304L (can also be used as welded in highly corrosive environments).
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