Sintering of Composite Materials under Reduced Gravity Conditions

PI: Carmelo Mandarino, Advanced Technical Institute I.T.I.S "E. Fermi"

Purpose of the experiment is to study how the reduced gravity conditions influence the formation of the micro-structures in the sintering process of powder materials. Previous experiments on powder mixing and compacting have been carried out on parabolic flights, using ceramic-based composite materials with different percentages of alumina and zircon oxide, which showed that in the samples compressed under reduced gravity the distribution of the zircon in the alumina is more homogenous as compared to the samples obtained under 1 g on ground. This is due to the fact that the reduced gravity favors the formation of the mixing and the absence of powder sedimentation. The proposed experiment will extend this investigation, by heating pre-compressed samples to sintering temperature, under the reduced gravity conditions provided by a parabolic flight aircraft.

Technology Areas (?)
  • TA07 Human Exploration Destination Systems
Problem Statement

The objectives of the experiment are to study how the reduced gravity conditions influence the formation of the micro-structures in the sintering process of powder materials, and to demonstrate that materials obtained through this process have better characteristics of strength and uniformity as compared to ground-based processes. This is a big advantage for applications to space exploration (construction of moon bases using lunar soil powder), and to the production of shaped materials for industry (alloys, filters, bearings or special objects).

Technology Maturation

The experiment hardware has been assessed at TRL-6 as it can be considered as a high fidelity prototype of the one intended for materials processing in space. Results from the parabolic flights may advance the maturity of the technology to the following levels, involving the construction of a fully automated machine capable of extracting and processing the lunar soil, in order to produce locally the materials to be used by human settlements on the Moon.

Future Customers

The innovative process carried out by the experiment will demonstrate the composite powders' sintering under reduced gravity and in vacuum conditions, which can allow the possibility of obtaining high quality materials for ISFR (In Situ Fabrication and Repair) and ISRU (In Situ Resource Utilization) for applications in reduced gravity environment, such as the Moon and Mars surfaces. NASA and other International Space Agencies as well as private commercial organizations and companies can benefit.

Flight Experiment Objectives

The objective of the parabolic flight campaign is to submit to sintering temperature in lunar gravity conditions some pre-compacted samples of simulated lunar soil powders, to be compared with composite materials obtained in 1-g using the same process. Expected results are that samples processed at reduced gravity will show a better particle spread and agglomeration, which will improve their thermal & mechanical characteristics.

Payload Description

The test apparatus consists of an induction heater furnace, capable of processing pre-compressed composite material samples in a vacuum chamber according to computer-controlled temperature cycles. Two operators are required for monitoring the cycles and replacing the samples in the chamber.

Technology Details

  • Selection Date
    AFO3 (Mar 2012)
  • Program Status
  • Current TRL (?)
    TRL 6
    Successful FOP Flights
  • 2 Parabolic

Development Team

  • PI
    Carmelo Mandarino
  • Organization
    Advanced Technical Institute I.T.I.S "E. Fermi"
  • Sponsor
    Advanced Technical Institute “E. Fermi", Fuscaldo, Italy
  • Partners
    Design Team: C.Mandarino, A.Caglianone, G.Panza, Advanced Technical Institute “E.Fermi”, Fuscaldo, Italy.
  • More Information

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