A new nanotechnology lubricant will be suitable for extreme conditions.

Shuttles and equipment used in space consist of numerous elements that have several friction-prone components so the surfaces must be greased to ensure smooth operation. Conventional oils and greases cannot be used in space due to extreme temperature, pressure and radiation conditions so solid substances such as molybdenum disulfide and graphite are preferred for space usage.

PhD student Triinu Taaber working in the laboratory of physics of nanostructures. Credit: Andres Tennus

Researchers involved in the activities of the Estonian Materials Technologies Competence Centre and the University of Tartu have been studying friction mechanisms and the characteristics of materials on the nanoscale and developed novel additives to lubricant oils together with the industry. Martin Järvekülg, Research Fellow in Materials Science at the University of Tartu and Project Manager of the Estonian Materials Technologies Competence Centre said that the aim of the cooperation between the centre and the European Space Agency is to develop a lubricant based on the combination of nanoparticles and ionic liquids.

In normal environments, ionic liquids are liquid salts with extremely low volatility.

“The novel lubricant must be effective under both normal pressure and under vacuum, both in high and low temperatures,” said Järvekülg. If the researchers succeed in combining the strengths of liquid and solid lubricants in the new compound material, the results of the project can be also used elsewhere, where the extreme environment or the specifics of application place higher demands on the materials.