NASA study - drill heads for space research

The knowledge about planets and stars in our near and far neighbourhood is still quite thin. Upcoming missions are facing special challenges: Astrobiological investigations of celestial bodies with ice surfaces are only possible with the right tools - such as 3D-printed milling heads made of amorphous metals.


Only soil samples really reveal a lot about a planet. Are there traces of water? Is there any form of life? Have we even found a second Earth? Space researchers can read all this from the nature of the samples to expand our still narrow cosmological knowledge.

But it is not always easy to drill for samples by robots like the Mars Rover. Surfaces of salt rock and ice are particularly challenging. NASA has therefore tested which materials are best suited as drill heads here. Hardened steels, for example, have the highest density, but also a high weight. Hard materials also become brittle easily and soft materials wear out too quickly. Metallic glasses, i.e. amorphous metals , are best suited for this purpose. They are high-strength, lightweight and extremely corrosion-resistant. Unlike other metals, they can withstand extremely low temperatures. In the study, milling heads made of amorphous metals showed the best properties for the challenges of these space excursions.

Our contribution: amorphous metals for space research

Milling head
It already looks like space, but it is manufactured on Earth: amorphous milling head from the 3D printer in an alloy powder bed

Heraeus has many years of experience in 3D printing with metals on the one hand and develops amorphous alloys and components on the other. This made the technology company the ideal partner for the NASA study. Amorphous metals can be excellently processed into larger components with complex geometry using 3D printing. Just like amorphous milling heads. Until now, 3D printing of parts of this type and size was not possible. Heraeus AMLOY is the first manufacturer to succeed in this. The high-purity, amorphous powders are specially optimized for additive manufacturing, i.e. 3D printing. This process opens up completely new possibilities for use in space. In the future, drill heads or other components can be manufactured by robots directly on the planet, adapted to the local conditions.

Read more about the research results of the study on additive manufacturing of excavation tools for future robotic space exploration