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RMIT creates super strong material for rocket parts

Researchers at RMIT have used 3D printing to create a new type of super strong material that could be used to create rocket parts.

The university said the artificial “metamaterial” – made from common titanium alloy – is 50 per cent stronger than the next strongest alloy of similar density used in aerospace applications.

It comes as the space industry is increasingly experimenting with 3D printing to create next-generation materials that can better cope with the unique rigours of space travel.

RMIT said that while its new material is currently resistant to temperatures as high as 350 degrees, it could potentially withstand temperatures up to 600 degrees using more heat-resistant titanium alloys.


However, the study’s lead author, PhD candidate Jordan Noronha, warned that because the technology required to make the new material is not widely available, its adoption by industry might take some time.

“Traditional manufacturing processes are not practical for the fabrication of these intricate metal metamaterials, and not everyone has a laser powder bed fusion machine in their warehouse,” he said.

“However, as the technology develops, it will become more accessible, and the printing process will become much faster, enabling a larger audience to implement our high-strength multi-topology metamaterials in their components.

“Importantly, metal 3D printing allows easy net shape fabrication for real applications.”


The new metamaterial gains its unique strength by imitating lattice-style structures seen in nature but uses 3D printing to negate the technique’s traditional drawback – which sees the load stress concentrating on the inside areas of the hollow struts, leading to premature failures.

“Ideally, the stress in all complex cellular materials should be evenly spread,” said RMIT’s distinguished professor, Ma Qian.

“However, for most topologies, it is common for less than half of the material to mainly bear the compressive load, while the larger volume of material is structurally insignificant.”

RMIT said that by “pushing 3D printing design to its limits”, it was able to optimise a new type of lattice structure to distribute the stress more evenly.

“We designed a hollow tubular lattice structure that has a thin band running inside it. These two elements together show strength and lightness never before seen together in nature,” said Qian.

“By effectively merging two complementary lattice structures to evenly distribute stress, we avoid the weak points where stress normally concentrates.”

It comes after Space Connect reported in September how the iLAuNCH research collaboration would begin work on a new 3D printing facility that aims to manufacture spacecraft structures using an electron beam.

The additive manufacturing project is the first in development from iLAuNCH and is partnering with Adelaide-based VPG Innovation.

“This important project is well underway in one of our key focus areas – additive manufacturing,” said iLAuNCH Trailblazer executive director Darin Lovett.

“Increasing the availability of custom structures, which are space-ready, will support the growing space sector.

“The partnership will also support a world-class Australian sovereign manufacturing capability that will create new jobs alongside a highly trained workforce, leading to global exports within the space industry and other markets.”

The $180-million iLAuNCH trailblazer is a partnership between the universities of South Australia (UniSA) and Southern Queensland (UniSQ), ANU, and more than 20 industry partners.

It’s aimed at accelerating the development of a space manufacturing sector.

Adam Thorn

Adam Thorn

Adam is a journalist who has worked for more than 40 prestigious media brands in the UK and Australia. Since 2005, his varied career has included stints as a reporter, copy editor, feature writer and editor for publications as diverse as Fleet Street newspaper The Sunday Times, fashion bible Jones, media and marketing website Mumbrella as well as lifestyle magazines such as GQ, Woman’s Weekly, Men’s Health and Loaded. He joined Momentum Media in early 2020 and currently writes for Australian Aviation and World of Aviation.

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