Space tribology: its role in spacecraft mechanisms

Roberts, Emyr (2012) Space tribology: its role in spacecraft mechanisms. Journal of Physics D: Applied Physics, 45 (50). pp. 1-17. ISSN 0022-3727

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The subject of tribology encompasses the friction, wear and lubrication of mechanical components such as bearings and gears. Tribological practices are aimed at ensuring that such components operate with high efficiency (low friction) and achieve long lives. On spacecraft mechanisms the route to achieving these goals brings its own unique challenges. This review describes the problems posed by the space environment, the types of tribological component used on spacecraft and the approaches taken to their lubrication. It is shown that in many instances lubrication needs can be met by synthetic oils having exceedingly low volatilities, but that at temperature extremes the only means of reducing friction and wear is by solid lubrication. As the demands placed on space engineering increase, innovatory approaches will be needed to solve future tribological problems. The direction that future developments might take is anticipated and discussed.

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