International Space Station is making Solutions in space

International Space Station is making Solutions in space

Sintering Solutions found on the mid-space station might change space missions forever.

The International Space Station (ISS) is a habitable artificial satellite in the lower orbit of the Earth. It is the largest human-made body in this part of the space which makes it observable for a human eye. It is used as a space laboratory where experiments are conducted in Astronomy, Physics, Meteorology and much more. A lot of important revelations were made possible for humanity because of this miraculous satellite and it seems as if it has a lot more in store for us. A recent announcement of NASA indicated that efforts are being made to successfully perform an extremely old process for bonding materials, called Sintering, on the ISS these days.

The components of this study were transported to the ISS through CRS-14, a SpaceX rocket. The Material Science Laboratory Low Gradient Furnace (MSL-LGF) of the Materials Science Research Rack One (MSRR-1) was used for the ignition of these materials. Sintering becomes a whole lot more difficult in space and the acknowledgment of Rand German, the Principal Investigator for the NASA Sample Cartridge Assembly-Gravitational Effects on Distortion in Sintering, is a proof of that. He said,

In space the rules of sintering change. The first time someone tries to do sintering in a different gravitational environment beyond Earth or even microgravity, they may be in for a surprise. There just aren’t enough trials yet to tell us what the outcome could be. Ultimately we have to be empirical, give it a try, and see what happens.”

A process called ‘Liquid Phase Sintering’ is being used in this experiment to check the degree of distortion due to the presence of microgravity. This procedure differs from conventional Sintering as it includes the involvement of those materials who have a lower melting point. Such components act as a catalyst which not only fastens the speed of the process but also enhances the quality of the bonding. Hence, they are extremely useful in bonding those materials that are not sintered easily. Scientists are hopeful that they will be able to create much stronger bonds in the future following the information they will get from this experiment. German emphasized the importance of this investigation by saying,

Sintering happens at the atomic level. Increased temperatures can cause those atoms to move about, and the liquid phase for our investigation helps with this atomic transport. On Earth, we have very stable structures where particles are pushed together by gravity, but we found in prior experiments that without gravity’s compression, the components being sintered can distort tremendously.”

This technique has the potential to revolutionize Space Travel. If scientists can figure out the differences between sintering on Earth and sintering in space, an in-flight manufacturing solution will become a matter of time. Another vital application of this incredible procedure could be the path for merging together in-situ resources. They could hold the key for missions to Mars or the Moon as sintering could be used for joining ‘Regolith’, a mixed sediment made from rocks, soil, and dust. Sintering is used widely for repairing quite a lot of everyday items that need metal bonding. The efficiency of this process allowed it to grow exponentially. German described that in the following words:

After the 1940s, sintering really started to take off as a manufacturing process. Once the automotive industry adopted it, the field saw phenomenal growth. Now we want to take sintering to space.”

When the scientists took it to space for the first time, they hoped that they will be able to form an alloy from Nickel, Tungsten, and Iron. However, an extreme temperature of 1210o C was needed for that which was quite risky as it is the maximum allowed limit for the Low Gradient Furnace of ISS. This gave birth to a new alloy in which Manganese was used as it has a lower melting point and good sintering properties. Other than that, this alloy consisted of Tungsten, Copper, and Nickel. It is also a very beneficial discovery for all those industries that use sintering on the Earth. The fact that sintering requires lower temperatures on our planet makes it an ideal alternative for current materials that are being used for sintering.

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