Foamed Metals: Bubble Wrap for Space

Foamed Metals

Imagine, for a moment, you’re building a rocket ship to the moon. It’s the mid-1960s, and your rocket technology has stringent payload weight limits, but you also have structural components that require the sort of durability that can survive launch, exposure to sub-cryogenic temperatures, and re-entry. It must also be able to absorb heat and vibrational stresses, while ensuring the safety of the most precious cargo, your astronauts.

In a perfect world, you’d be looking for bubble wrap made of metal, or perhaps something from Area 51.

Enter “Foamed Metal.”

In 1966, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) approached Ipsen to do a study on materials and methods to create “foamed metals for launch and space vehicle applications.” 

The objective of the program was to produce a porous metal with controlled density that had predictable properties using a foaming and sintering technique.

Basically, engineers were tasked to test out a variety of metals, utilizing a technique to blend or infuse different metals with an inert compound. This compound could be chemically removed, leaving behind compressible gas bubbles that would reduce weight and absorb impact. Additionally, it would give the material more surface area to dissipate heat, while also reducing expansion and contraction cycles when subjected to varying temperatures.

Ipsen tested the differences between foaming melted metal, mixing powdered metal with a pore-foaming slurry, and infusing air into a metal powder slurry.

Metals they tested include aluminum, titanium, stainless steel, tool steel, nickel and molybdenum, each having elements and qualities that could serve different needs in the aircraft. The results of their testing were published in 1966 and are available to download on NASA’s Technical Reports Server (NTRS) at

Visitors to the “Learning Café” at the Ipsen USA Vacuum Technology Excellence Center in Cherry Valley, Illinois can see the results of the foamed metal tests on display. These artifacts were provided by Susan Ipsen, daughter of our founder Harold Ipsen.

Today, foamed metals are being developed to create bullet-shattering armor for armed vehicles, and a nearly uncuttable material that combines foamed aluminum, steel alloy, titanium and ceramic that’s six times less dense than steel.

There are all sorts of applications where foam metal can improve daily life of law enforcement professionals, hazardous material handlers, computer heat sinks, as well as automotive safety and biomedical structures.

By working with NASA on researching the use of foamed metal in the 1960s, Ipsen represents an innovator in modern metallurgy, an important step in the development of technologies that will have an impact on our world, and beyond our horizons.