The Chinese rover Zhurong has been moving about the surface of Mars since May. Conventional lubricants would evaporate due to the planet’s thin atmosphere

The Chinese rover Zhurong has been moving about the surface of Mars since May. Conventional lubricants would evaporate due to the planet’s thin atmosphere

A lubricant for space

Because conventional fats and greases reach their limits in outer space, re­searchers have now come up with an alternative to these products

When people hear the word “lubricant,” they generally think about oils and fats for use in automobile engines or bicycle chains. However, the movable parts of a Mars rover also have to be able to move smoothly. Conventional substances quickly reach their limits under the extreme conditions of outer space. However, this is not the case with a class of dry lubricants that a research team at the Technical University of Vienna has now investigated: MXenes. They consist of ultra-thin titanium and carbon layers that can slide against one another and thus prevent abrasion. MXenes have a special structure that makes them very heat-resistant, which is why they can be employed in the steel industry, for example, where production takes place at high temperatures. It also enables MXenes to be used in outer space, where their high performance is undiminished because they don’t evaporate under vacuum conditions.

Photo: picture alliance / ZUMAPRESS.com / CNSA

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