Source: NASA/Photo courtesy of Scott Andrews

Alcoa Aluminum Soars with Ares, Time Magazine’s 2009 Invention of the Year


Alcoa aluminum plays a critical role in the future of NASA’s Ares rocket, named by Time magazine as the 2009 Invention of the Year.

The rocket, which Time called, “The best and smartest and coolest thing built in 2009 — a machine that can launch human beings to cosmic destinations we'd never considered before…” depends on Alcoa’s aluminum-lithium alloys for the lightweight, strong plates used in the structure.

Breakthrough aluminum-lithium alloy technology continues to be developed at the Alcoa Technical Center in Pittsburgh to support projects such as the Ares program, along with first-of-a-kind manufacturing practices to meet the challenge of turning aluminum-lithium ingots into high performance plate products.

Aluminum-lithium ingots are cast at Alcoa Technical Center before being shipped to Alcoa’s Davenport Works in Iowa, where they are rolled into plate. Alcoa’s Davenport Works is the only supplier certified by NASA to provide the light gauge, high quality plate for the Ares 1 crew launch vehicle.

NASA awarded Alcoa contracts now totaling $18.7 million since 2007 to develop manufacturing capabilities and to supply the initial requirements for aluminum-lithium alloy products. A year later, NASA certified Alcoa as the sole supplier of the high performance aluminum-lithium alloy thin plate. In supplying plate products to NASA since 2008, Alcoa’s Technical Center and Davenport Works facilities have demonstrated both the capability and flexibility needed for NASA to meet its program goals.

Alcoa aluminum has been used in the space program since its inception. Alcoa and NASA are also collaborating on Ares V, the heavy cargo launch vehicle currently under development.

“We congratulate NASA on this significant recognition of the cutting edge technologies used on its Ares rockets program,” said Harry Kiskaddon, Commercial Director – Alcoa Aerospace. “And we’re honored to play such a critical role in the agency’s next generation of space vehicle.”

Alcoa is a leader in the development of aluminum-lithium alloys, which are lightweight, low density and strong. Aluminum-lithium alloy 2099 won the R&D 100 Award, considered the Oscars of Invention, in 2007.