Welding Alloys in Space Exploration: Challenges and Solutions

Welding Alloys in Space Exploration: Challenges and Solutions

The materials used to make spacecraft must be extremely lightweight and malleable, but at the same time very durable. Furthermore, the welds produced are subject to great scrutiny while adhering to the highest standards of safety.

This makes aerospace welding processes extremely tricky, even for the most professional welders. Let’s take a closer look at the challenges that come with welding metals for space exploration as well as the processes that are meant to address them.

Common Aerospace Metals 

The first flight by the Wright brothers was made from a combination of bamboo and spruce.

Fast forward a century later and humanity finds itself creating vehicles that can explore space. Of course, the materials have also evolved with the times. Some of the most popular materials used in spacecraft are aluminum alloys, titanium alloys, and stainless steel. 

Challenges with Aluminum Alloys

Aluminum and its alloys are popularly used in spacecraft for being lightweight and extremely durable. However, their nature makes welding processes rather tricky. For one, their low melting points make them more likely to crack, warp, or break. Their porosity, thickness, and impurity-prone compositions further complicate the process. 

Challenges with Titanium Alloys 

Titanium alloys also have a tendency to warp and crack because of their high melting points and low thermal conductivity. These two properties require welders to adopt new techniques and equipment to ensure consistent and smooth welds. 

Challenges with Stainless Steel 

Stainless steel is one of the most popular alloys used in spacecraft components but also has properties that complicate welding. Its high thermal expansion and low thermal conductivity make it prone to distortion, especially when it undergoes rapid temperature changes. While stainless steel is anti-corrosive, exposure to high heat increases the likelihood of rust formation.

Advanced Welding Solutions

To deal with these challenges and ensure clean welds, welders must constantly adopt specific techniques such as:

Tungsten Inert Gas Welding

One of the most popular welding techniques, TIG welding produces smooth and strong weld streams that maintain their integrity even when subjected to a lot of force. Meanwhile, an inert shielding gas protects the weld from contamination.

Plasma and Friction Stir Welding 

These two advanced processes are increasingly adopted by aerospace welders as they can significantly cut down on the number of welds required. This helps reduce the weight of a spacecraft without compromising its functionality. Friction stir welding was, for example, used extensively in building NASA’s Orion spacecraft. 

Furthermore, automation and robotic welding processes have been helping ease the challenges in welding spacecraft components as they are capable of reducing workloads, taking over repetitive tasks, and producing consistently strong welds. 

The Sky Isn’t the Limit with nexAir

Learning these processes isn’t an easy task. To manufacture spacecraft components, welders must undergo several training and education programs. 

No one understands this need better than nexAir. Since the 1940s, nexAir has been helping industries across the Southeast Forge Forward with the most modern welding supplies and equipment. At the same time, we have been using our KnowHow to address some of the biggest challenges posed by the industry. 

With our innovative automated systems and knowledge of complicated processes, the aerospace industry can count on us to ensure success in all of its space missions.

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