Spacecraft and airplanes are intricate machines that are designed and built to precise specifications, including which alloying element works best for individual components. Aluminum, copper, and nickel are most commonly used because of their ability to resist wear and tear, their heat resistance, and their magnetic properties. New applications have been found to utilize these metals and vastly improve existing designs.
Aluminum has been used in aircraft construction for decades. It provides excellent strength as well as an economically friendly weight to cost ratio. It is estimated that almost 80% of the materials in modern aircraft is aluminum. The aircraft fuselage, wings, and supporting structures of commercial aircraft are all constructed of this metal alloy; aluminum can withstand a high level of UV rays as well. New technologies are on the forefront of aluminum as new casting technologies offer lower manufacturing costs, the ability to form complex shapes, and the flexibility to incorporate innovative design concepts.
Copper-based alloys are commonly used where construction requires materials that have high strength, resistance to corrosion, and excellent ductility. These parts are often safety critical and require long term operation such as electrical components, copper wire, generators, and data transfer systems. Copper is also a non-magnetic metal which means it won’t interfere with any electrical applications, making it practical to use in these applications. It is easily malleable and highly conductive. Its reliability and wide array of uses makes it an important alloy in the construction of a n aircraft. The same applies to nickel.
Nickel alloys are used in gas turbine engines, combustion chambers, engine exhaust valves, spacecraft, and many more applications. It has magnetic properties, excellent resistance to wear and tear, and can sustain extreme temperatures. In gas turbine engines, nickel can be found in the combustion chamber of an engine. The continuous stream of pressurized gas, as well as the constant flame, makes nickel the best metal alloy for this function. It is also found in the exhaust valves of aircraft. When nickel is mixed with tungsten or molybdenum, it allows it to withstand even higher temperatures. On spacecraft, nickel can be found on the outer parts of the vessel, where it protects against UV rays as well as tiny meteoroids. Without this heat resistant alloy, we may not have been able to walk on the moon.
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