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A new hard aluminum alloy resistant to space radiation?

According to this press release, engineers have developed a new hard aluminum alloy that is also resistant to the high radiation seen in space, which in turn could make this lighter-than-steel metal practical for spacecraft.

Making spacecraft from aluminium is one solution, as aluminium is a light yet strong material. Alloys help aluminium become harder via precipitation strengthening, but the radiation encountered in space can dissolve the hardening precipitates with potentially disastrous and fatal consequences for astronauts.

But the research carried out at MIAMI-2 in partnership with Montanuniversitaet Leoben (MUL) in Austria has discovered that a particular hardening precipitate of a new aluminium alloy – developed by a group of metallurgists led by Professor Stefan Pogatscher (MUL) – does not dissolve when bombarded with particle radiation when compared with existing data on irradiation of conventional aluminium alloys.

If I understand this, traditional aluminum alloys have not been useful for building spacecraft because they cannot withstand the radiation of space. This alloy appears to solve this problem.

I would be interested in hearing what the space engineers in my readership think.

Conscious Choice cover

From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
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“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.


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  • Jay

    Interesting. I work a few miles away from a reactor and during a visit we discussed the fuel assembly. I asked if it was aluminum and they told me ‘no’ because aluminum is transparent to neutrons. So I have to read this article.

    So looking at the article, the stuff is Mg32(Zn,Al)49. Magnesium can be used as a neutron moderator. The zinc is pretty ductile, used as a anti-corrosive, and the aluminum is the light weight metal. You have a light, easy to shape alloy that is a good radiation shield.
    I hope it works!

  • Roland

    An overview of preliminary research, published Sept. 30, 2020.

  • MDN

    I’m not a space engineer but have a degree in manufacturing engineering that included a fair amount of mechanical engineering and materials science as well. To start I believes Jay is mistaken in interpreting this as a radiation “shield. “ This development is a new aluminum alloy engineered to RETAIN its mechanical properties (mostly structural strength related as I read it) when exposed to radiation, whereas legacy alloys would deteriorate and lose strength in such environments. For instance if the Russian module on ISS is skinned in aluminum, this could explain why it is now cracking after 20 years where before it was fine.

    In my opinion this is interesting for sure, and will certainly have merit for some structures.

    However for the primary spacecraft I think SpaceX is making the better bet using stainless steel. The reason is because the vast majority of spacecraft structure involves the fuel tanks, and the SpaceX approach is to use a heavier (and inherently stronger and more radiation resistant) material as both Tank AND Support Structure (i.e. the tank holds the fuel but also IS the chassis if you will of the entire ship to use a unibody car analogy).

    This combined use offsets the weight penalty as it eliminates the need for a separate support structure, with the added bonus of being far easier and cheaper to manufacture. Spacecraft are a complex systems problem, and Elon Musk has an excellent knack for evaluating how all of the variables interplay and selecting solutions that balance the trade-offs out extremely well.

  • MDN

    PS. Stainless steel is very radiation tolerant as well, which is among the reasons it is used for most reactor vessels too. Like I said, Musk thinks way ahead and is very smart.

  • Col Beausabre

    “Hard” aluminum alloys are nothing new. FMC’s M113 armored personnel introduced them in 1960. 100,000 vehicles later, it’s still going strong. And they’re used on the M2M3 fighting vehicles.

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