Sending humans to Mars—an idea that used to be purely science fiction—may not be too far in the future, thanks to the rapidly expanding space exploration industry that Arconic is helping take shape. Mark Straszheim, Arconic’s Director of Defense and Space Market, tells us where the space market is headed and how Arconic has helped launch it into orbit.
A: The global space industry is over $350 billion and growing 3-5% year over year, according to a 2017 report from the Space Foundation. What’s driving that growth? For one, the need to be connected through global satellite communications and navigation networks that are so critical to everything from the apps on your phone to national defense systems. But also important is our innate human need to explore. Did you know there were over 90 space launches last year? That’s almost two per week around the planet, and there are now eight space agencies or private firms with plans to travel to Mars—including NASA’s SLS/Orion spacecraft, which our ATEP Austin facility helps fly with 3D-printed vents.
Q: What are some exciting trends or developments you’re seeing with space?
A: Space has forever intrigued mankind and begged the question: “how can we do this?” With today’s technologies, the question becomes “how can we do this as a business with reliability, productivity and affordability?” Arconic’s heritage of innovation, engineering and manufacturing expertise sets us apart from competitors. The most exciting trend? New entrants in the space market are challenging the materials science status quo and Arconic is the key to the multi-materials answer.
Q: There are so many new players in the space market. What has opened the door to private industry?
A: The simple answer is commerce. We are demanding connectivity; satellite companies are building networks and launch providers are putting those into orbit. That, coupled with essentially the “deregulation” of space launch in the U.S., has driven many entrepreneurs into the market. These new entrants are bringing innovation to the market for lower costs and faster turn times—all while maintaining performance and world class reliability – a value proposition that perfectly parallels Arconic.
Q: Arconic has been involved in Space exploration for years. Where can you find our products and technologies?
A: In the 1960s and ‘70s, we were providing aluminum sheet and Inconel castings for the Apollo program, and then in the 1990s, we pioneered the Aluminum-lithium alloy used on the Space Shuttle’s lighter weight external fuel tank. Today, our businesses are supplying thick aluminum plate for fuel tanks, complex Inconel and titanium forgings for engines, premier fastening systems for nearly every launch vehicle in North America and some very sophisticated aluminum castings to rocket builders in Europe. And that’s not all. We also make large titanium rings and plates and super intricate additive manufactured parts that help space-bound customers reach for the stars. Arconic businesses have the rare teams in place necessary to design, produce and ensure the metallurgical quality necessary for space travel. It really is a case where the whole is much greater than the sum of the parts.