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Technical Ceramics Reach Their Final Destination In Outer Space

After more than a decade in space and four years orbiting Mercury, NASA’s Messenger Mission ended in spectacular fashion on Friday 24th April when the spacecraft reached the planet’s surface.

Messenger arrived at Mercury in 2011 and then far exceeded its primary mission plan of one year in orbit.

The custom made ceramic components designed and manufactured for the spacecraft were finally delivered after 11 years and 27 days. We can usually deliver even complex parts to you in a few weeks.

After burning its last fuel in a final manoeuvre on 24th April, the spacecraft began ‘slowly’ losing altitude and reached the planet’s surface at 20:46 at a final speed of 8,750mph (14,000km/h).he Mercury Messenger Spacecraft on ‘final approach’ towards the planet’s surface.

The high-speed collision, twelve times faster than sound, completely obliterated the history-making craft. And it only happened because Mercury has no thick atmosphere to burn up incoming objects. For this same reason the planet is struck by similarly-sized meteors once every month or two. And they arrive ten times faster!

Right: The Mercury Messenger Spacecraft on ‘final approach’ towards the planet’s surface at a final speed of 8,750mph (14,000km/h).

The 513kg spacecraft measured only 3m across but blasted a 16m wide crater into an area near the planet’s North Pole according to scientists’ calculations.

Designed, manufactured and rigorously tested before being approved for the spacecraft, the Macor and Shapal components had to be tested to ensure they could survive the extreme vibrations of take-off and then provide the electrical insulation required even in the vacuum of space. During some points in the mission especially when the spacecraft was flying close to the sun, the components also had to withstand huge temperature cycling.

Who says that technical ceramics are fragile? We can provide ceramics tough enough to be hit by a hammer!

As in many space applications, technical ceramics can provide an excellent size-to-weight payoff.

Macor & Shapal Machinable Ceramics

Having excellent physical properties, high dielectric strength and electrical resistivity, Macor machinble glass ceramic is non-porous, non-shrinking and withstands high temperatures while providing tight tolerance capability. It can be easily machined into the most complex shapes with conventional metalworking tools enabling fast turnaround from design to delivery and has substantially lower costs when compared with other technical ceramics. Shapal, and more recently.

Shapal Hi-M Soft™, are machinable ceramics which combine a high thermal conductivity with a high mechanical strength and with bending strengths of 30 kg/m. In particular, Shapal Hi-M Soft™ has an excellent sealing ability to vacuum. It also has good heat resistance and an extremely low coefficient of thermal expansion.

Precision Ceramics is the principal UK distributor for both materials which form an important part of the company’s wide portfolio of technical ceramics available for an ever-increasing array of worldwide applications.

Left: Two of Messenger’s final images of Mercury before it ploughed into the planet at more than twelve times the speed of sound.

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