Metals in Space: How Superalloys Changed the Rocket Landscape – by Benjamin Spilker ( – March 26, 2019)

There is a high chance that a large variety of metals is in your proximity at this very moment. Metals are found and used virtually everywhere, from the iron in your red blood cells to the rare earth metals in the screen you are reading these lines from.

Many of the greatest advances in technology can be traced back to the exceptional characteristics that can be achieved by manufacturing parts from metal or alloying different metals to obtain even more superior materials.

Apart from the materials themselves, the manufacturing techniques evolved from hammering copper in approximately the 6th millennium BC [1] to, more recently, 3D printing of titanium.

One of the greatest advancements of the 20th century is certainly the human venture into space. The requirements for the launch vehicles to deliver scientific or commercial payloads into a stable orbit around the Earth are complex and often strongly differ from common engineering applications.

For example, the structural materials need to sustain high forces during the phase of maximum aerodynamic pressure at the ascent, low temperatures in the liquid fuel systems, high temperatures in the combustion and exhaust section and hydrogen embrittlement [2], in case hydrogen is used as fuel. If all of that wasn’t enough, all components used need to be extremely lightweight. The reason for massive parts being unacceptable for launch vehicles is rooted in the very foundation of rocket science, the rocket equation.

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