Materials characterization of deposits on starboard (inboard) elevon actuator shaft recovered from space shuttle Columbia

Mayra J Contreras, University of Texas at El Paso


With the new era of space exploration upon us and the Orion spacecraft currently being tested, which would replace the Space Shuttle as the orbiter that will transport humans into space once again, safety assurance is the main component for a successful mission. Aerospace materials have always played a big role when it comes to safety assurance. Having the knowledge of what materials are suitable to keep using when designing the future spacecraft that will take humans to Mars is fundamental in order to be confident that the vehicle and all that comprises it will function as envisioned. Expanding the knowledge and obtaining a better understanding on how space materials behave in extreme environments like outer space is crucial when space safety and mission assurance is the goal to accomplish. The Challenger and Columbia accidents are reminders that advancement in materials science plays an important role for the success of space exploration. While the debris from Challenger were buried in the abandoned Minuteman silos, Columbia debris has been stored in a room at the Vertical Assembly Building for the scientific community to conduct research on it with the goal of improving the designs of new spacecraft. One of the artifacts recovered from Columbia and loaned to the university to conduct scientific research on was the starboard (inboard) elevon actuator. This hydraulic powered component contains a shaft that displayed a significant amount of molten metal deposited onto it. Doing a thorough materials characterization on the deposit as well as the base metal will allow for information such as identification of deposits to be known, any thermal alterations that occurred to the base metal, and possibly, temperatures reached by surrounding metal as well as the base metal of the shaft. Since the hydraulic system that contains the shaft powers the orbiter’s aerosurfaces, the movement of the elevons throughout the breakup might be an area that can be closely investigated and may lead to new trajectory data.

Subject Area

Aerospace engineering|Materials science

Recommended Citation

Contreras, Mayra J, "Materials characterization of deposits on starboard (inboard) elevon actuator shaft recovered from space shuttle Columbia" (2016). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI10247807.