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Aluminium Lithium Material Used On NASA Tank Dome

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Alcoa Defense
: 01 April, 2010  (Application Story)
A spun-form dome at the NASA Marshall Space Flight Centre was friction stir welded using Aluminium Lithium plate from Alcoa
Alcoa has announced that its aluminium lithium plate is featured in NASA’s friction-stir welded, spun-form dome that is making its debut at the Marshall Space Flight Centre in Huntsville. Along with Lockheed Martin and MT Aerospace, Alcoa engineers were part of the consulting team providing materials expertise that helped to develop this groundbreaking technology – the first full-scale friction-stir welded and spun-formed tank dome designed for use in large liquid propellant tanks.

“We want to congratulate NASA on this important achievement,” said Harry Kiskaddon, global commercial director, Alcoa Rolled Products. “The tank dome proves the viability of using friction-stir welding to reliably and cost-effectively join large aluminium-lithium plates for high-strength applications. It is a great first step in testing the fundamentals of this technology – and a terrific example of how next-generation aluminium alloys continue to push the boundaries of innovation. It illustrates how Alcoa delivers both products and technology innovations to designers to enable more efficient and high-performance structures.”

The 18-foot dome was developed with friction-stir welding, a welding process specifically designed for working with aluminium, and spin forming, a metal-working process used to form round, symmetric parts. Through this new technology, NASA hopes to reduce the weight of future large liquid propellant Tanks by 25 percent. Additionally, the cost of producing the Tanks is reduced because friction-stir welding and the concave net shape spin forming process eliminate manufacturing steps, such as machining.

“We were able to supply the aluminium-lithium plates needed for the dome because our Davenport, Iowa, facility is the widest hot rolling mill in the world,” said Kiskaddon. “Two of our wide plates were joined into one plate using the friction-stir weld process.”

Since its inception, the space program has used Alcoa aluminium. Alcoa’s Davenport Works is the only supplier certified by NASA to provide the light-gauge, high-quality, aluminium-lithium plate for crew launch vehicles.

NASA awarded Alcoa contracts now totalling $18.7 million since 2007 to develop manufacturing capabilities and to supply the initial requirements for aluminium-lithium alloy products. A year later, NASA certified Alcoa as the sole supplier of the high performance aluminium-lithium alloy thin plate. In supplying plate products to NASA since 2008, Alcoa’s Technical Centre and Davenport Works facilities have demonstrated the product capability, manufacturing flexibility and technological innovation needed for NASA to meet its program goals.
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