Neutron imaging (radiography) provides detailed information about critical aerospace components and equipment, such as turbine blades. This imaging technique is a vital part of the quality control process; it can find critical flaws, defects, or damage in these components, potentially saving money and even lives. Our state-of-the-art, high yield neutron generator delivers the same high-resolution image quality as reactor-based facilities, without the outages and heavy security, safety, and logistics overhead. We’re more reliable, flexible, and agile . . . and as a result, our clients are, too.
The X-ray image (left) cannot clearly depict the cooling channels in a batch of blades; however, the channels show up more clearly in a neutron image of the same batch (right).
Jet engine turbine blades present a unique problem that neutron imaging is particularly well-suited to solve. The casting process can sometimes result in ceramic fragments becoming trapped in a turbine blade’s cooling channels, which blocks the airflow and can lead to disastrous results.
Radiography alone struggles to pick up these flaws. In order to detect even the smallest bits of leftover ceramic, the blades must be washed with a special contrast agent containing gadolinium — which settles within ceramic but washes off the rest of the blade — and subjected to neutron radiation. When a neutron image is taken in our lab, the gadolinium-soaked ceramic fragments show up on film in stark contrast to the surrounding material.
Energetic devices carry small, controlled explosive charges necessary for ejection systems in fighter jets, payload fairing separation systems for spacecraft, and explosive signal transfer systems. Because of their critical importance, thorough quality assurance via nondestructive methods is a necessity. However, due to the structure of energetic devices, X-ray radiography struggles to identify discontinuities in the explosive material that could cause a misfire with devastating and potentially deadly consequences. Neutron imaging, in contrast, excels at penetrating the dense casings of these devices to depict the quality of chemical payloads within.
In space, one of the greatest threats to satellites, space shuttles and space stations is the large amount of radiation produced by solar flares. Radiation hardening techniques are crucial to preventing damage from space radiation and protecting human passengers from the direct effects of electromagnetic radiation exposure.
During radiation effects testing at Phoenix, aerospace components (such as shielding materials and electronics) are bombarded with large amounts of radiation to simulate their operating conditions. This process helps ensure the components are sufficiently hardened from the effects of radiation.