Safe in Space

Spring 2023

Orange-toned photo of astronauts in space.

Johns Hopkins Engineers are partnering with those at Carnegie Mellon University to ensure that additively manufactured metal parts used by NASA in everything from rocket engines to human outposts on other planets are durable and capable of withstanding the stress of the space agency’s most ambitious missions.

The JHU-CMU team is spearheading one of NASA’s two new Space Technology Research Institutes, which bring together university-led teams to develop technology. While the JHU-CMU institute will work to enable rapid certification of metal parts created using advanced manufacturing techniques, another at the University of Texas at Austin will focus on quantum sensing technology. Each will receive up to $15 million over five years.

“It’s not overstating to say that the results of our Space Technology Research Institute will mark a paradigm shift in the way these materials are produced, qualified, and certified as being equal to the jobs they will be asked to do on critical space missions,” says Somnath Ghosh, the Michael G. Callas Professor in the Department of Civil and Systems Engineering, who is co-principal investigator of the institute and will co-direct STRI with Tony Rollett at CMU.

Additively manufactured metal parts are made from powdered metals that are melted and shaped for use as components. It is difficult to accurately predict how these materials will behave in real environments and impractical for NASA to test every part in all possible scenarios.

The STRI group will perform testing using “digital twins”: computer models that will allow the team to understand the parts’ capabilities and limitations. Such models not only enable optimization of process-structure-property relationships that are key for certifying the parts for real-world use, but also save time and money.

The team will also use the same approach, which employs physics, mechanics, and machine learning, for evaluating and modeling new materials. Ghosh predicts that the result will be a game changer not only for NASA, but also for aircraft companies.