In an exclusive interview with Popular Mechanics, Elon Musk shared how he has changed the construction material of the SpaceX Starship to stainless steel and the reasons why. Steel Studio shares his views on this decision and highlights the benefits stainless steel has to our planet.
In January 2019, the world read about Elon Musk’s decision to build the SpaceX Starship out of Stainless Steel and not out of Carbon Fiber. Here’s a link to the exclusive interview with Ryan D’Agostino, PM Editor in Chief at Popular Mechanics, where they discussed the reasons for this change in material choice.
The Starship rocket, formerly known as the BFR (Big Falcon Rocket), was initially designed to be manufactured out of carbon fiber. Now, Elon Musk says he’s using stainless steel as the material to construct the rocket.
Historically, there were some unsuccessful attempts in building spacecraft from stainless steel in the late 1950s, but for the first time, this will mark the first successful result that the material will be used to manufacture a spacecraft of this magnitude.
The decision to use stainless steel to construct the Starship.
After rumours of a slight tweak to the design of the rocket, news broke that there would be far more than a simple tweak. The Starship would now be manufactured from 300-series stainless steel instead of carbon fibre. To be precise, 301 stainless steel. If you’re wondering what that grade means, then look around, most stainless steel pots are made from grade 304 stainless steel and so are the stainless steel balustrades that Steel Studio manufactures for inland use.
Why stainless steel is a better option than carbon fiber.
Why are we so interested in Elon Musk’s decision to use stainless steel and not carbon fibre as initially thought? Simple. We share his views in the material selection process. Price plays a huge roll in the manufacturing of the rocket. Where he was paying $135/kg for carbon fiber and wastage was sitting at 35% that couldn’t be re-used after it was cut. He is now paying $3/kg for stainless steel with wastage of 0%. The decision is a no brainer because as we know, stainless steel is 100% recyclable and 65% of all newly manufactured stainless steel goods are from recycled stainless steel. Not only that. But using the highest quality 300 series stainless steel ensures that the rocket is built from a material that is lighter than carbon fiber. It increases in strength by 50% at cryogenic temperatures, whereas other metals become brittle and shatter. It is the high chrome-nickel content in the stainless steel that increases the strength and makes it more ductile. The material is also non-corrosive but also, possesses self-repairing properties, meaning that it self repairs its passive layer under specific strain and damage. This is very much the same reason that Steel Studio uses stainless steel in this series to manufacture balustrades.
Stainless steel remains an environmentally friendly choice.
Above all the reasons described above, the most significant benefit in using series 300 stainless steel is the effect that the material has on our planet. Let’s consider the impact that carbon fiber has on the environment. If 35% of the carbon fiber material sourced for manufacturing the rocket is waste, what happens to that waste, as it cannot be re-used. What percentage of it is recyclable? If any. www.materialstoday.com tells us how difficult it is to recycle carbon fiber. With very high temperatures and or chemicals (adding to the damage to our planet), it is possible to recover the carbon fiber. However, you do risk damaging the carbon fiber in the process.
What should also be taken into account is that upon return of a successful mission, any parts of the rocket, consisting of stainless steel that needs repairs or replacing can be done knowing that stainless steel is 100% recyclable and no scrap will land up in landfills and harm our planet.
We, therefore, back our South African born entrepreneur’s decision to build SpaceX’s Starship of stainless steel, and even though the visible benefits come from the cost, less wastage, and the self-repairing properties of the steel, above all, he is taking care of our planet.
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