Scientists investigate laser welding for repairing space stations

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The scientists are using an 'Einstein Elevator' to perform welding experiments under microgravity. (Image: LUH/Christoph Lotz) 

Scientists are exploring how laser welding could be used in space to repair, modify and augment space stations.

The researchers, from the Laser Zentrum Hannover (LZH), are using the ‘Einstein Elevator’ at the Hannover Institute of Technology to investigate the influence of microgravity on laser welding parameters.

Currently, to equip space stations, fully assembled structures have to be transported into space – taking up cargo space and leading to high fuel costs. 

Laser welding could be a potential solution to this problem.

With it, add-on or spare parts could be joined together directly on site, allowing existing equipment to be flexibly expanded, modified, or repaired – rather than being replaced entirely.

However, the microgravity, vacuum, radiation and electric/magnetic fields of space cause materials and processes – such as laser welding – to behave differently. 

The LZH scientists are therefore using the Einstein Elevator to investigate how microgravity affects metallic molten pools created during laser welding. 

Specifically, in ‘The behaviour of metallic melts during laser beam welding under microgravity’ project – funded by the German Research Foundation – they want to investigate flow behaviour during the welding of similar and dissimilar joints made of aluminium alloys and steel materials. The scientists also want to analyse the mixing behaviour of the materials in the melt of such welds, as well as investigate the influence of the greatly reduced convection under microgravity on the molten pool and resulting joints.

The elevator being used is a further development to the classical drop tower format, with which experiments can be carried out under reduced gravity and microgravity (approximately weightlessness). The achievable microgravity is less than 10-6g over a maximum duration of 4 seconds. Without a vacuum, the microgravity achievable in the Einstein Elevator is 10-4g – corresponding to the conditions on the International Space Station.

Laser Zentrum Hannover to present smart production innovations at LASYS 2022  

At this year's LASYS, the LZH can be found in hall 4, stand A19. There its experts will present innovations from plant and system technology as well as the latest developments in the field of lightweight construction. 

Another focus is on the potential of smart additive manufacturing and smart agricultural technology – using a laser-based process for sustainable and herbicide-free weed control.

Meet the experts: In two presentations at the Lasers in Action Forum, the LZH scientists will discuss the latest developments in laser-based additive manufacturing with glass (Tuesday, 21 June at 11:30 a.m. and Wednesday, 22 June at 1:30 p.m.). Furthermore, the Wissenschaftliche Gesellschaft Lasertechnik e.V. WLT and its members, as well as industry partners, have put together an application-oriented lecture program on current trends in the field of laser material processing (find the programme here).

At the trade show, LZH scientists will be available to answer any questions users may have about laser material processing. Trade visitors can discuss current and future applications of lasers with them and get valuable ideas for their production processes.

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