A short description of the various grades of stainless steel commonly used in aerospace applications.

Materials for aerospace applications are required to maintain the integrity of the structure (i.e. to be sufficiently robust to withstand their service environment) and to be inert (i.e. corrosion resistant). Stainless steels are used in aerospace applications because they are resistant to corrosion and high temperature oxidation and maintain their mechanical properties over a wide temperature range.

In aerospace applications, materials for each application are selected on the basis of their resistance to corrosion or high temperature oxidation and mechanical properties in a specific service environment. The following examples may serve to indicate the considerations made in selecting a suitable grade of stainless steel for aerospace applications. For applications where corrosion resistance is of primary importance, austenitic stainless steel grade 1.4301 (AISI 304) and its derivatives are suitable for mild environments with less than 200 ppm chloride (eg cabin components, internal fuel tanks, etc). Grade 1.4401 and its derivatives are suited to service environments where chloride is present in the atmosphere. Grades 1.4301 (AISI 304), 1.4401 (AISI 316) and their respective derivatives exhibit moderate oxidation resistance and are suitable for temperatures up to 870°C. For applications where oxidation resistance is the primary feature, grades 1.4818 (ASTM S30415), 1.4835 (ASTM S30815), 1.4833 (AISI 309) and 1.4845 (AISI 310) may be used. These grades are suitable for temperatures up to 1150°C.

Typical applications for stainless steels in aerospace applications are shown in the table below.

Application/use Stainless steel - type EN 10088 grade
Fuel tanks Austenitic 1.4301 (AISI 304)
1.4307 (AISI 304L)
1.4541 (AISI 321)
1.4401 (AISI 316)
1.4404 (AISI 316L)
Exhaust components, high temperature engine and structural parts Austenitic 1.4818 (ASTM S30415) [153 MA]
1.4835 (ASTM S30815) [253 MA]
1.4833 (AISI 309)
1.4845 (AISI 310)
Other structural components Austenitic 1.4301 (AISI 304)
1.4307 (AISI 304L)
Ferritic 1.4016 (AISI 430)

Footnote: The following information has been extracted from a document prepared by Tony Newson of Eurofer, Brussels, whose objective was to provide a summary of the basic grades of stainless steel commercially available and to indicate which grades are most commonly used in some of the principal application categories.

It has been written primarily from a European perspective and may not fully reflect the practice in other regions.

SpaceX relies on stainless-steel for Starship Mars Rocket

In a first for a space programme, SpaceX is relying on the unique qualities of steel for its plans to make Mars colonisation a reality.

Founded in 2002 by Elon Musk with the aim of reducing space flight costs enough to make the colonization of Mars feasible, SpaceX is developing Starship – a fully reusable, privately funded launch system for interplanetary and orbital spaceflight.

What makes this rocket unique is the material chosen for the body of the Starship rocket and its Super Heavy Booster. Originally slated to be constructed from state-of-the-art carbon fibre, SpaceX announced that this would be replaced with gleaming 300-series stainless-steel.

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Why stainless steel is essential for the aerospace industry

In recent years, aerospace manufacturers have started investigating alternatives to aluminum, one of them being aerospace grade stainless steel.

Source: Marlin Steel

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