Bearings for Vacuum Operation—Retainer Material and Design

[+] Author and Article Information
Harold E. Evans, Thomas W. Flatley

Mechanical Systems Branch, NASA, Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

J. Eng. Ind 85(2), 129-134 (May 01, 1963) (6 pages) doi:10.1115/1.3667607 History: Received April 03, 1962; Online December 09, 2011


This report describes the initial phase of an investigation of the high-speed operation of miniature ball bearings, with metallic film lubrication, in a vacuum environment. Phase I of this study was conducted to determine the most promising retainer material and design for use in a general study of the effectiveness of various metallic coatings as lubricants. Fully machined retainers of five different materials, with all balls and races of gold plated 440C stainless steel, were tested. Both pure gold plating and gold with additives were investigated. Size R2-5 bearings were run without external loading at a nominal motor speed of 10,000 rpm and the goal is a bearing life of 1000 hours in an ambient pressure of 10−7 torr. The results show that: (1) Thin metallic films as lubricants show real promise when used in a vacuum environment; (2) pure gold plating is not as effective as the plating with additives; (3) fully machined retainers provide good performance, and the use of relatively hard retainer materials significantly extends the useful life of the bearings; and (4) the bearing failures tended to be catastrophic rather than gradual, making the prediction of the onset of failure difficult. A special multiport oil-free vacuum system designed and built for this program proved extremely effective in achieving a vacuum of 10−7 torr, and in permitting the operation of seven individual tests at one time.

Copyright © 1963 by ASME
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