Hypergravity helping aircraft fly further Aircraft turbine in flight. ESA research has helped to develop an aircraft-grade alloy that is twice as light as conventional nickel superalloys while offering equally good properties. Restriction use : CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 http://www.flickr.com/photos/andresrueda/5951504022/sizes/m/in/photostream/ Image:
For commercial airlines, this saving quickly adds up, offering cheaper flights and fewer stopovers while reducing the overall impact on the environment.
Since the newer alloy can withstand extreme temperatures up to 800°C, it is of particular interest to engine manufacturers.
Although it is possible to make the alloy in a laboratory, casting it in the shapes required by industry, such as a turbine blade, is not simple.
ESA scientists working in the Impress project looked into the problem. To understand natural processes, scientists often remove as many external variables as possible, concentrating their observations on core interactions.
Looking at the results, the researchers realised that casting titanium aluminides might require looking in the opposite direction: hypergravity.
Casting the metals in a centrifuge creating up to 20 times normal gravity helps the liquid metals to fill every part of a mould, producing a perfectly cast alloy, even with complex shapes.
Over a million jet turbine blades will be made over the next eight years, and using titanium aluminide would reduce their weight by 45% over traditional components.
The alloy's benefits are also of interest to the car industry - before long, cars will run on engines using space-based knowledge.