Sci-fi GRX-810 alloy created by NASA
3D printing and powerful computations made the metal reality Metal Tech News – April 27, 2022
Last updated 4/26/2022 at 11:34am
Dubbed GRX-810, a new metal alloy developed by NASA using a 3D printing process that dramatically improves the strength and durability of components and parts for aviation and space exploration – resulting in better and longer-lasting performance.
Although it is currently unknown exactly what mix of metals goes into GRX-810, it is described as an oxide dispersion strengthened (ODS) alloy – a metal that contains nanoscale oxide particles – that can endure temperatures over 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, is more malleable, and can survive more than 1,000 times longer than existing state-of-the-art alloys.
"The nanoscale oxide particles convey the incredible performance benefits of this alloy," said Dale Hopkins, deputy project manager of NASA's transformational tools and technologies project.
NASA intends to use its latest innovation to 3D print high-temperature components for systems such as rocket engines, claiming it can ultimately enable improved fuel efficiency and lower maintenance costs. The agency has already used the alloy to 3D print a turbine engine combustor.
Owing to the harsh and unforgiving nature of outer space, NASA's materials research and development efforts aim to enable enhanced mechanical properties in extreme environmental conditions. GRX-810 is the purported epitome of this, as it boasts "remarkable performance improvements" over many of today's leading alloys such as Inconel.
For example, at 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, GRX-810 has twice the fracture resistance, three and half times the ductility and malleability, and over 1,000 times the durability under stress when compared to cutting-edge alloys.
"This breakthrough is revolutionary for materials development," added Hopkins. "New types of stronger and more lightweight materials play a key role as NASA aims to change the future of flight."
GRX-810's impressive blend of characteristics is due, in large part, to NASA's new alloy development process.
"Previously, an increase in tensile strength usually lowered a material's ability to stretch and bend before breaking, which is why our new alloy is remarkable," said the project manager.
In this case, 3D printing technology was combined with thermodynamic modeling to achieve the material's breakthrough performance.
ODS alloys tend to be difficult and costly to develop, so NASA researchers initially had to use computational models to fine-tune GRX-810's composition.
The team leveraged thermodynamic modeling to determine exactly which metals to combine and what amounts. Then, the researchers utilized laser-based 3D printing to uniformly disperse the nanoscale oxides throughout the alloy's matrix, which is what provides the temperature resistance and strength properties.
According to Hopkins, the process of ODS development usually takes years and is largely based on trial-and-error. Using this new combination of computational modeling and 3D printing, the researchers managed to slash the development time down to just a matter of weeks.
In the case of GRX-810, the thermodynamic modeling approach allowed the NASA team to discover the optimal alloy composition in just 30 simulations.
"Applying these two processes has drastically accelerated the rate of our materials development," said Tim Smith, a material research scientist at NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. "We can now produce new materials faster and with better performance than before."
What benefits this new alloy presents remains to be seen, but it can be speculated it may add a much-needed edge to NASA's ongoing Artemis program and eventually the habitation of the Moon and then Mars. And who knows, GRX-810 could very well be the hull of a future Enterprise.