Alcoa and Aluminum Again Advance Space Exploration
NEW YORK--Alcoa (NYSE:AA) and aluminum helped advance space exploration another step recently when NASA's Curiosity rover landed on Mars following its 352-million-mile journey from Earth.
Curiosity is a car-sized, six-wheeled robot made mostly of aluminum, which makes the craft light, durable and fast. Incorporated into the assembly of Curiosity are high-strength precision aerospace fasteners manufactured by Alcoa Fastening Systems in California. Inconel 718 bolts and standard hexagon nuts produced at Alcoa’s Newbury Park facilities and Keensert Inserts manufactured at Alcoa’s Torrance plant were used in the construction of the rover.
Alcoa's high-strength fasteners connect the many structural components and attach equipment securely to the vehicle, and the threaded inserts are essential in transferring high tension and high loads into the lightweight base structure. Both the Inconel 718 bolts and hexagon nuts can withstand temperatures of up to 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit (650 degrees Celsius). The Inconel 718 bolts also have excellent strength properties at elevated temperatures making them ideal for spacecraft, rocket motors, and turbines.
"All Alcoans should be proud of our latest contribution to this milestone in human history,” said Alcoa Chairman and CEO Klaus Kleinfeld. “From Kitty Hawk to Mars and beyond, Alcoa solutions have helped shape every major advance in aviation. More than 90 percent of aerospace alloys in use today were invented by Alcoa, and our fasteners, forgings or other products can be found on virtually anything that flies."
Alcoa Space-Age Achievements
Alcoa aluminum alloys and propellants have helped make many space milestones possible, from the first manned flight and the first moon landing to the Space Shuttle and International Space Station programs.
The tiny lunar module Eagle used in the U.S. Apollo space program in the 1960s was built almost completely of aluminum, offering precious weight savings. Twenty years later when the Space Shuttle Columbia made its maiden flight, Alcoa was on board with powdered aluminum fuel that helped launch the shuttle and aluminum components in the main engine’s liquid hydrogen pump.
And in 2010 Alcoa aluminum lithium plate was featured in NASA's first full-scale friction-stir welded and spun-formed tank dome designed for use in large liquid propellant tanks. Alcoa engineers were part of the consulting team providing materials expertise that helped develop this groundbreaking, cost-effective technology. By using a lighter weight material, the number of pieces needed to create a tank dome was significantly reduced and numerous manufacturing steps were eliminated. It's an example of how next-generation aluminum alloys continue to push the boundaries of innovation.
Alcoa continues its technology leadership in patented aluminum lithium alloys which allow airframes to build dramatically lighter and lower-cost aircraft versus composite alternatives. Earlier this year, Alcoa announced an expansion of its aluminum-lithium capabilities at three locations around the world to meet growing demand in the aerospace market for its newest alloys, which provide the best strength-to-weight performance in Alcoa’s aerospace alloy portfolio combined with better stiffness and corrosion resistance. And Alcoa continues to consult with and work closely with the leading players in space exploration.
Alcoa is the world’s leading producer of primary aluminum, fabricated aluminum and alumina. In addition to inventing the modern-day aluminum industry, Alcoa innovation has been behind major milestones in the aerospace, automotive, packaging, building and construction, commercial transportation, consumer electronics and industrial markets over the past 120 years. Among the solutions Alcoa markets are flat-rolled products, hard alloy extrusions, and forgings, as well as Alcoa® wheels, fastening systems, precision and investment castings, and building systems in addition to its expertise in other light metals such as titanium and nickel-based super alloys. Sustainability is an integral part of Alcoa’s operating practices and the product design and engineering it provides to customers. Alcoa has been a member of the Dow Jones Sustainability Index for ten consecutive years and approximately 75 percent of all of the aluminum ever produced since 1888 is still in active use today. Alcoa employs approximately 61,000 people in 31 countries across the world. More information can be found at www.alcoa.com.