3-D Printed Ceramics Could Pave Way for Sturdier Hypersonic Aircrafts

'hypersonic aircraft'

Crack-resistant, 3-D printed ceramics could shield hypersonic jet planes from the tremendous heat generated by air friction.

Ceramics have been in use in the aerospace industry for more than a decade, but the material had one major flaw: it cracked easily. This is why the technology behind hypersonic vehicles has been greatly limited in recent years. But a team of engineers think that their 3-D printed ceramics could pave way for sturdier hypersonic aircrafts.

Furthermore, ceramics are very hard to work with since they are not as flexible as metals and polymers are. But unlike other materials ceramics can handle a great deal of heat and last a considerable amount of time.

Hypersonic crafts need to be able to withstand tremendous temperatures while they whoosh through the atmosphere. Engineers explained that air friction can boost heat on the surface of a hypersonic craft to more than 1,000 degrees F.

Some aircrafts and space shuttles are shielded by ceramic tiles, but the current technology is expensive, and the material can crack at any time because of the intense heat.

Reportedly, the new type of ceramics is both crack-proof and heat resistant. It can survive temperatures of up to 3,000 degrees F (1,700 degrees C). Plus, because it can be 3-D printed, the material is more malleable than other types of ceramics, thus, allowing engineers to come up with more complex structures.

The newly-designed material, however, is the result of decades-long research. In the 1960s, a team of researchers invented a type of material called polymer-derived ceramics, which is a polymer laden with molecules that make up ceramics such as silicon and nitrogen.

When the polymer is heated it becomes rigid since the organic compounds in it undergo various chemical reactions and produce  methane and carbon dioxide. At the end of the process, the polymer turns into a ceramic.

Although the end product is smaller than the original polymer, it doesn’t change shape. Additionally, if other compounds are added to the polymer the ceramics can gain a wide range of new functions.

But the recent research managed to improve the ceramic even further. Engineers at the HRL Laboratories in Malibu were able to replace the initial polymer with a resin that is polymerized by UV light in a regular 3-D printer.

The new technique makes the resin extremely flexible as it polymerizes only in regions that are exposed to the right amount of UV radiation.

After the polymer takes the desired shape, it is heated with aragon resulting in a new type of not-so-easy-to-break ceramics. Engineers claim that their material is ten times more resistant than any other type of ceramics now on the market.
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