That’s aluminium scandium that is

Ghosts of the USSR: Eerie photographs show Soviet-era space shuttles left to rust in an abandoned desert hangar in Kazakhstan

That’s what it was developed for. Nasa developed aluminium lithium largely for use in the Shuttle. Soviets Al Sc. Which is, actually, the better alloy for the purpose. If, of course, you can get the scandium, which the Soviets could because they didn’t measure the costs of getting it properly.

True story – we were discussing with Nasa making some scandium aluminide* for them. It’s absolutely the best possible combination of light and very highly temperature resistant. Doesn’t even start to deform until well over 1,400 oC.

So, why not test making heat resistant tiles for shuttles from it? Which is what was going to happen. We’d make a bit of it, a few tens of kg, they would then play. That was the arrangement on the Friday, Monday or Tuesday they’d come back with a payment method.

On Saturday Columbia came down in pieces as a result of failure of the heat resistance system.

Absolutely no more was ever said about scandium aluminide.

*The convention is that aluminium scandium has a small dose of Sc. Maybe 2% in the master alloy, 0.1 or 0.2% in the final alloy you actually use. Dcandium aluminide would be perhaps 30% scandium. Quite lovely, lovely, stuff but alarmingly expensive.

11 comments on “That’s aluminium scandium that is

  1. I would have thought a failure of the heat resistance system would encourage looking at other possibilities (particularly those that are potentially better). The fleet being grounded for years probably didn’t help sales though.

  2. The impression I got was that we definitely don’t want anyone to be thinking that we were pondering this question at all. No Siree!

  3. Thr properties of the material are pretty irrelevant if you’re knocking chunks of it off. Isn’t that what happened?

  4. Richard Feynman, ‘appendix F’ all you need to know really!

    Or perhaps this was true…

    NASA (Need Another Seven Astronauts)

  5. Is scandium-aluminium alloy relatively that costly?
    From my experience, years ago, working for a defence company:
    Mild steel screw 0.3p each. Cost of paperwork £432.00. Total cost £432.30 (they come in packets of 100)
    High tensile stainless steel screw 3p. Cost of paperwork £432.00 Total cost £432.30 (packets of 10)

  6. Their original batch was made out of stuff from me. And one or two subsequent ones actually. The final alloy I don’t know about but the initial stuff was 98% Al, 2% Sc from Russia.

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