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Japan's IHI Develops New Material For Rocket & Aircraft Engines

09 December 2002

Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries (IHI) has developed a composite material based on ceramic fibers for use in fighter aircraft engines and rocket control engines.

The ceramic fiber composite is made by interweaving ceramic fibers 10 microns in diameter in a three-dimensional lattice and coating it with a glass-like substance. The ceramic fibers withstand heat well, but break easily. By using them in the composite material, however, their strength is greatly enhanced.

Carbon fiber composites are frequently used in aircraft and rocket bodies, but are rarely used in engines because they can only withstand temperatures up to around 300 C. Instead, nickel alloys are used in engine parts. The new ceramic fiber composite withstands high temperatures better than carbon fiber composites and is also around 50 per cent lighter than the commonly used nickel alloys.

The company has already finished field-testing the ceramic fiber composite in the exhaust nozzles of engines for the Defense Agency's fighter aircraft, and has succeeded in making a prototype of control engines for rockets. It plans to continue combustion tests, aiming to commercialize the material in rocket engines in fiscal 2005.