Defense and Aerospace
Whether advancing military defense technologies or space programs, rare earth elements (REEs) are crucial to innovations in flight. Ceramics containing the rare earth element cerium, for example, are central to the U.S. Space Shuttle program. Cerium is also used in several other space shuttle components. Spacecraft and guided missiles use atomic batteries made from promethium. Stabilizers and mold formers for exotic light-weight jet engine turbines, stabilizer material in rocket nose cones, and laser crystals specific to spectral characteristics for military communications, use yttrium and other lanthanides.
REEs are central to the entire spectrum of defense technologies that are vitally important to military forces in many countries. REES are used in many ways, with varying purity concentrations and metallurgies. The directional capabilities of precision-guided munitions in missiles and guided bombs rely on REEs, as do lasers used in target interrogators, target designators and rangefinders. REEs are also found in electronic counter measures, coatings, optical equipment, as well as in communications devices radar systems and displays.
The electrical systems in aircrafts use samarium-cobalt permanent magnets to generate power. These magnets are also essential to many military weapons systems. In addition, aircrafts use small high-powered rare earth magnet actuators that control their various surfaces during operation. Heat-resistant ceramic coatings are applied to jet engines as a barrier to protect metal alloys. The ceramic coating maintains its heat-resistant durability thanks to yttrium oxide, which prevents the zirconia from transforming from a tetragonal to monoclinic structure.
Terfonal-D is a rare earth alloy made of terbium, iron and dysprosium that is used in high-power sonar on ships and submarines. Stealth helicopters use Terfenol-D speakers in their noise cancellation technology blades and NdFeB magnets.
Rare earth elements are also a large component in the future of defense and aerospace technology. Unmanned aircraft such as drones and advanced jet aircraft are all dependent on rare earth elements.