NASA's new material is a 1000 times stronger than its previous alloys

Material modeling and 3D printing makes discoveries possible in weeks now.
Ameya Paleja
A turbine engine combustor (fuel-air mixer) 3D-printed using GRX-810 alloy at NASANASA

NASA's newly developed metal alloy will be used in aviation, and space exploration is as much as 1,000 times stronger than the state-of-the-art alloys it has made in the past, the space agency said in a press release.

To counter the formidable challenges of launching missions, NASA is always on the lookout for new materials that can handle the rigors of the launch and the extreme cold of outer space. The newly found material has been dubbed GRX-810 and can be categorized as an oxide dispersion strengthened (ODS) alloy and can withstand harsh conditions before reaching its breaking point. 

Material modeling over trial and errors

For its recent discovery, NASA turned to material modeling to determine which metal combinations would deliver the optimum results. Before this, the new material discovery was a trial-and-error process, often taking years of work to arrive at a suitable material. 

By combining material modeling with additive manufacturing (3D printing), the space agency could quickly determine the required composition of the alloy it desired and was also able to produce it in an equally short period of time. The modeling method used by the agency allowed it to arrive at the ideal composition of the alloy after only 30 simulations. 

"What used to take years through a trial-and-error process now takes a matter of weeks or months to make discoveries,” said Dale Hopkins, deputy project manager of NASA’s Transformational Tools and Technologies project. 

Characteristics of GRX-810

The newly made alloy can withstand temperatures of over 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit (1093 degrees Celsius) and is 1000-times more durable at higher temperatures. The alloy is more malleable, but it also has three and half times the flexibility to stretch or bend before fracturing and twice the strength to resist fracturing. 

"Previously, an increase in tensile strength usually lowered a material’s ability to stretch and bend before breaking, which is why our new alloy is remarkable," Hopkins added.

The flexibilities offered by the new material will deliver vast performance improvements, allowing designers to factor in trade-offs that they could not consider before, the press release said. 

In addition, to deliver material improvements rapidly, the use of additive manufacturing also paves the way for cost savings over conventional processes. 

"This breakthrough is revolutionary for materials development. New types of stronger and more lightweight materials play a key role as NASA aims to change the future of flight," Hopkins said in the press release. 

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