A radiation-resistant and superhard material for dust-resistant mechanical bearing applications on the lunar surface will be tested and demonstrated under this project. This highly incompressible ceramic material is able to be formed into intricate bearing geometries directly from powder by utilizing spark plasma sintering to create dense, hard, geometrically precise, and wear-resistant bearing surfaces. This new material is more than 30% lighter than the chrome steel commonly used for bearings, and about 15% lighter than Nitinol, which NASA has been recently investigating for bearing applications. A roller bearing using this new material that is tolerant of regolith dust will be designed and partially fabricated and tested. Specimen coupons of the material will be characterized for tribology properties, coefficients of thermal expansion and friction, and wear resistance during temperature extremes from -240 C to 130 °C. At the conclusion of the Phase II, a functioning roller bearing would have been tested in the simulated conditions and delivered to NASA for further evaluation.
The new bearing being developed will be immediately applicable to small, precision mechanical bearing applications that can operate reliably without environmental protection housing in the extreme environments of NASA missions. In addition to the lunar environment, other NASA missions can experience temperature extremes ranging from high temperature/high pressure to cryogenic temperatures/vacuum.
The new radiation-resistant and superhard bearing material being developed has significant potential beyond spaceflight applications, including improved performance for industrial bearings. This fully-ceramic bearing material technology has the potential to be utilized in high temperature and corrosive applications in the oilfield, refinery, chemical processing, and metal processing industries.