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A microscopic survey of the surface of a titanium alloy produced through selective laser melting (SLM), a type of 3D printing where solid parts are built up using a laser that melts successive layers of metal powder.
The process has an inherent random element owing to the varying dimensions of the powder grains and, at the surface of the built part, some grains may be partially melted or loosely attached.
ESA’s Materials Technology Section in the ESTEC technical centre in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, is working with space industry partners to investigate if such SLM alloys are less resistant to cracking from stress corrosion.
Materials used for space structures must be highly resistant to stress corrosion, as titanium alloys typically are. But this resistance depends on factors such as the environment, the alloy composition and the geometrical features and surface finish of the hardware.
So a test campaign is assessing the resistance of SLM alloys, including their surface characteristics.
This image was derived from stereo images acquired with a scanning electron microscope by AAC in Austria, from samples provided by Thales Alenia Space in France. These were then mathematically treated to show the surface relief down to a millionth of a metre.