As one of the difficulties in engine design is to prevent it from melting, one can expect research to be conducted on what materials to use for thrust chamber and nozzle.

Many engines seem to use steel and copper, or alloys like Narloy-Z, which seem to have good combinations of strength, cost and heat conduction. However, their melting point is rather low compared to other materials, such as tungsten that can go more than a thousand K higher. Other materials, like the aerogel used for Space Shuttle tiles, are also extremely heat resistant.

Those materials probably have other characteristics preventing them from using them there, though. Sure, aerogel can survive the heat, but if it is too fragile to survive chamber pressure without being torn apart, it won't be usable anyway. And tungsten may loose its physical properties well before reaching its melting point.

Are there new materials that are or have been recently developed that have better performances? Are there new approaches, like trying to make tungsten work? What material performances can we expect to see in the future?


1 Answer 1


I cant speak for the whole industry, only make an observation.

In my opinion the industry is currently focusing less on material chemical composition and more on physical construction. By physical construction I mean the physical structure between the nano, micro, and macro scales. Recent advances in 3D printing have allowed for whole new designs in the macro scale that have led to increases in performance. Material construction on the nano and micro scale have resulted in whole new properties previously unachieved by simple chemical composition alone.

I am not saying that chemical composition is being ignored, because it isn't, its just that more advances have been made recently using old mixtures in new constructs.

One semi-recent example is the micro dimpling of turbine blades to create air pockets that insulate the blades from the extreme heat of the engine.

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    $\begingroup$ But is it possible to use metals with a very high melting point for 3D printing? $\endgroup$
    – Uwe
    Commented Oct 22, 2018 at 20:55
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    $\begingroup$ That is a loaded question, yes and no, can it be done? sure, but it's difficult and the properties of the that metal play an important role. To my knowledge something tough like platinum isn't 3D printed yet. It's not that it is impossible it's just no one has yet made an apparatus to do it yet. Bare in mind a topic like 3D printing encompasses a wide range of techniques and resolution in the finished product. $\endgroup$
    – anon
    Commented Oct 23, 2018 at 12:23

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