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Composites in the race to space | CompositesWorld

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Advanced materials are used in current and upcoming NASA missions.

CW Photo | Scott Francis

July 20, 2019 is the 50th anniversary of the first anniversary

Landing on the moon. Although, at that time

The capsule has been built, the composite material industry is still in its infancy, and the material is not yet widely used.

This capsule uses an early composite technology, using an ablation insulation board made of Avcoat, which is an epoxy novolac resin with silica fibers in a glass fiber-phenolic honeycomb matrix. The glass fiber honeycomb body is bonded to the basic structure, and the paste material is injected into each cell separately. since

Advanced composite materials have developed by leaps and bounds and have played an important role in space programs for launch vehicles, space shuttles, satellites, space telescopes, and the International Space Station.

Now, mankind has found that it has taken an exciting new step for space exploration. The current administration calls on American astronauts to return to the moon by 2024 and announces that in 2021 the budget of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA, Washington, DC, USA) will exceed 25 billion U.S. dollars. NASA Administrator Jim Bryant said the budget is “one of the strongest budgets in NASA’s history.”

The insulation board is made of glass fiber honeycomb made of epoxy novolac resin.

Photos | Scott Francis

In addition to launching the moon again, NASA will also perform current and upcoming missions to study our solar system, from the sun to the ice moon moons of the outermost planets and beyond. A mission to explore the sun is currently underway: At the time of writing, the Parker Solar Probe is currently monitoring the sun’s atmosphere, and the Solar Orbiter has been successfully launched. It is also making further efforts to explore exoplanets and distant galaxies through the Transitional Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) mission and the James Webb Space Telescope, the latter of which has taken a step towards the launch preparation phase in the past year.

In recent years, new spacecraft and programs have also stemmed from the increasing cooperation between national and international space agencies and commercial companies. For example, SpaceX (Hawthorne, California) and its

Spacecraft and Boeing’s space and launcher (Arlington, Virginia, USA) and its

This is the first manned space flight in the United States since the termination of the space shuttle program in July 2011. The two companies have been conducting test flights with NASA and hope to complete the manned mission in 2021.

From the increasing support of NASA’s space program to the explosive growth of commercial space, mankind seems to be ready for the next great space age. Composite materials and advanced materials are playing an increasingly important role in the manufacture of launchers, spacecraft and instruments, which makes all these explorations possible.

Source | NASA

The overall plan to return humans to the moon is named after Artemis, the Greek goddess of the moon and hunting, and the twin sisters of Apollo-the scope of the plan is very broad.

It will establish a lunar orbital base so that astronauts can not only further explore the moon, but also use the moon as the ultimate Mars mission base. Several projects make up

The plan includes a new heavy-duty launch system called the Space Launch System (SLS),

Crew ship, called lunar orbiting space station

And the lunar lander. Advanced composite materials decompose all these components in one way or another.

SLS Rocket Stage is preparing for shipment. Source | NASA

NASA's new heavy-duty launch vehicle aims to achieve exploration beyond Earth's orbit. In 2015, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) invested

(Mukilteo, Washington, U.S.) Automatic fiber placement (AFP) machine, used to manufacture large rocket parts, the part includes a sandwich structure with a diameter of more than 8 meters, the sandwich structure is made of aluminum honeycomb core carbon fiber skin. The AFP head can hold up to 16 carbon fiber spools and is located at the end of a 21-foot-long robotic arm that places carbon fibers on the tool surface in precise patterns to form structures of various shapes and sizes.

RUAG Space (Decatur, Alabama, USA) created a similar sandwich structure using a manual layup process. The company is working with Dynetics (Hansville, Alabama, U.S.) to develop a universal stage adapter (U.S.), which will be added to the upper layer of SLS.

Unit module. RUAG Space will manufacture the adapter’s 8.4-meter diameter housing, which includes four composite honeycomb core quarter panels, which will be thermally bonded together (



The spacecraft is preparing for thermal testing. Source | NASA

Including the command module produced by Lockheed Martin (Bethesda, Maryland, USA) and the service module produced by the European Space Agency (Paris, France, ESA) and Airbus Defense and Space Company (Ottobrunn, Germany).


Plan and will take astronauts to space, serve as exploration tools during space travel, and send crew members back to Earth.

 Aerojet Rocketdyne is using a new carbon fiber winding machine to produce solid rocket engine shells at its advanced manufacturing facility in Hansville, Alabama, USA. Source | Aerojet Rocketdyne

The propulsion system includes many

 (Sacramento, California, USA), including eight 110-pound thrust biopropellant auxiliary engines based on Aerojet Rocketdyne's R-4D engine series. Aerojet Rocketdyne also provided the launch abort system (LAS) ejection motor and composite wrapped pressure vessel for the spacecraft. In early 2020, Aerojet Rocketdyne installed a carbon fiber winding machine to produce its solid rocket motor housing (

The manufacturing of the carbon fiber heat shield is completed

Use autoclaved prepreg produced by Toray Advanced Composites. Source | Lockheed Martin


Use a carbon fiber insulation board with a diameter of 5 meters manufactured by Lockheed Martin

It is made into a sandwich structure with a carbon fiber skin and a titanium honeycomb core. Then, the heat shield is covered in Avcoat's panels, and Avcoat's panels use the same ablative material.


At the position where the command module is connected to the repair module, four compression pads of ablative material are connected to the heat insulation board through titanium alloy bolts. The pressure pad must resist structural loads during launch and ascent, as well as withstand thermal shock (from explosive bolts) during separation of the two modules. They must also meet the return requirements for high temperature resistance and ablation. Carbon fiber/phenolic mat was used in the first flight

The vehicle was tested, but it showed signs of interlayer cracks after flight, and was replaced by a 3D weaving solution called 3D Multifunctional Ablation TPS (3D-MAT), which used a material from 3D weaving quartz

(Barrie, Pennsylvania, USA) and Toray Advanced Composites' cyanate ester resin system (

Orion compression cushion. Source | NASA

Artist performance

 In the process of docking with the lunar orbital platform-gateway. Source | NASA

Gateway is a lunar space station developed by NASA and international partners (including Russia, Canada, Japan and the European Space Agency).

The mission is to support the exploration of the moon and act as an outpost for the final mission to Mars. Various modules of the station are under development and may use composite materials in some way.

The Gateway plan will use a solar array (ROSA) developed by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL; Dayton, Ohio) and a deployable space system using high-strain composite materials (HSC). HSC is a thin and light composite material designed to fit into small packages and unfold by unfolding. The ROSA system uses two carbon fiber HSC cantilevers to unfold and tighten the large solar panel blanket. (

Another potential contribution to Gateway is Canadam-3. Proposed by the Canadian Space Agency (

(Quebec, Canada), the device is an 8.5-meter robotic arm made of carbon fiber composite materials. The previous Canadarm system has been used in the space shuttle and the International Space Station (ISS).

Many companies are studying the concept of a lunar landing system,

All these have the potential of composite materials. For example, Blue Origin (Kent, Washington, U.S.) is working with Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman (Fallschurch, Virginia, U.S.), and Draper (Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S.) ) Cooperation to jointly propose a three-vehicle lunar landing system: Blue Origin

The lunar lander, the "transfer element" vehicle provided by Northrop Grumman, will position the landing system on the lunar orbit, and the "lift element" vehicle provided by Lockheed Martin will enable astronauts Return to lunar orbit from the lunar surface. Draper will provide the descent guidance system and flight electronics. Other companies engaged in lunar lander concept research include Boeing, Dynetics, SpaceX, and Sierra Nevada (Louisville, Colorado, USA and Madison, Wisconsin, USA).

In addition to manned lunar landers, NASA expects that small and medium-sized lunar landers need to be able to carry out various scientific investigations and large-scale technology demonstration payloads.

NASA's new EVA suit improves maneuverability. Source | NASA

In October 2019, NASA announced two new spacesuit designs-a new exploration extravehicular maneuver unit (xEMU) and Orion Crew Survival System (OCSS) suit-both of which will be used

Plan a mission to the moon.

According to reports, the mobility of xEMU suits is much higher than that of suits currently used for extra-vehicle activities (EVA). According to ILC Dover (Frederica, Delaware, USA), which has a long-term partnership with NASA to manufacture space suits, the xEMU suit is an upgrade of the advanced walking suit delivered to NASA in 2016 Version, namely Z-2.

"Since 2016, ILC Dover has been improving the design of sportswear, zero-gravity suits and L-Length entry suits," said Dan Klopp of ILC Dover's product marketing department. 

The Z-2 spacesuit prototype uses carbon/epoxy torso and hip elements in the design. (Look"

"To learn more about the composite materials used in the space suit.)

The OCSS spacesuit of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is designed to provide astronauts with pressure launch and entry suits.

Crew. Although NASA has not released detailed information about the materials in the new design, it is certain that a large number of composite materials are involved. The launch and entry suit of the space shuttle era is characterized by the outer layer

(Richmond, Virginia, USA) Flame-retardant meta-aramid Nomex. The previous exterior mobility unit (EMU) used a combination of Nomex, para-aramid Kevlar (also developed by DuPont) and Gore-Tex (a waterproof and breathable fabric membrane made by WL Gore & Assoc). (Newark, Delaware, USA) (

Mars. Source | NASA

The "Mars 2020" rover will be lighter than an ordinary compact car. Source | NASA

a big part

This initiative laid the foundation for sending humans to Mars. At the same time, NASA is also working hard to achieve an unmanned mission to Mars this summer, which will build a new robotic rover and robotic exploration helicopter on this red planet.

The airframe is designed to protect the Mars rover during atmospheric entry and landing. Source | Lockheed Martin

The capsule-shaped capsule will protect the 2020 Mars Rover during its entry into the Martian atmosphere and landing. The body is made of aluminum honeycomb and carbon fiber skin. The heat shield uses a tile phenolic impregnated carbon ablation agent (PICA) thermal protection system. 

 More than 1,500 carbon fibers were used in the construction of the Mars helicopter. Source | NASA

The Mars 2020 rover itself is approximately 10 feet long, 9 feet wide, and 7 feet high (3 meters long, 2.7 meters wide, and 2.2 meters high). Although NASA has not yet released detailed information on the materials used to manufacture the rover, it is well known that Advanced Composites Training (ACT, London, Ontario, Canada) is a part of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL, Pasadena, California, U.S.) consultant. ) Information on the use of composite materials to build the "Mars 2020" rover (

The wanderer weighs 2,314 pounds (1,050 kg), which will be lighter than an ordinary compact car. It must be lightweight and durable to travel across the Red Planet. It must also be strong enough to carry cameras, scientific instruments, and a Martian helicopter (another type of composite-intensive aircraft that will be used to explore the Earth).

The Mars helicopter is made of more than 1,500 carbon fibers, flight-grade aluminum, silicon, copper, foil and foam, and weighs no more than 4 pounds (1.8 kg) (

sun. Source | NASA

Two missions are currently underway to improve our understanding of the sun and its behavior, the ultimate goal of which is to predict solar storms that will affect ground electrical systems, satellite communications, and GPS.

Parker Solar Probe's carbon fiber composite foam TPS is designed to withstand the heat of the solar corona. Source | NASA


 Launched in August 2018 and performed in-situ measurements and imaging to study the corona of the sun and solar wind. To withstand the extreme temperatures in this area, the probe uses a 4.5-inch thick lightweight reflector. The thermal protection system (TPS) is made of carbon fiber composite foam sandwiched between two carbon laminates and is coated with white ceramic paint on the Chaoyang surface. The shield was designed by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (Laurel, Maryland, USA) and built on Carbon-Carbon Advanced Technology (Kennadale, Texas, USA).

Most of the probe's instruments are hidden behind the TPS, and sensors along the edge of the heat shield allow the spacecraft to be positioned correctly. The solar panels used to power the aircraft can be retracted into the shadow of the heat shield for protection. It also uses a simple cooling system that circulates around a gallon of water to keep the solar panels and instruments cool. 

In January 2019, NASA reported that

After approaching the sun (perihelion) for the fourth time, it operated as designed. Although the temperature of the spacecraft and instruments behind the protective heat shield was maintained at approximately 85ºF (30ºC), the TPS of the aircraft reached a new record temperature of 1,134ºF (612ºC). During the three closest perihelions of the spacecraft in 2024-25, the temperature of TPS will be approximately 2500ºF (1,370ºC).

The carbon fiber composite material/titanium metal layered solar shield can protect the solar orbiter from the influence of solar heat. Source | ESA

A cooperative mission between the European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA (NASA) was launched in February 2020. The orbiter is on a unique trajectory, which will enable its full set of instruments to provide historical images of the solar poles.

The spacecraft is protected by a solar visor with a carbon fiber composite/titanium layer, which has openings for various instruments. The 324-pound heat shield can withstand high temperatures of 970ºF (521ºC) and uses a 0.05 mm thick titanium foil layer to reflect heat. The shielding layer is supported by a 2.94 x 2.56 m support plate, the support plate is about 5 cm thick, made of lightweight aluminum honeycomb and two high thermal conductivity carbon fiber skins. The multilayer insulation material can withstand high temperatures of 572ºF (300°C), thereby providing further protection. Solar Orbiter's heat shield is covered with a thin layer of black calcium phosphate.

The James Webb Space Telescope uses infrared light and will allow astronomers to observe the most distant objects in the universe. Source | NASA

In August 2019, Northrop Grumman engineers located in Redondo Beach, California, United States, combined the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) optical telescope components (including mirrors and scientific instruments) with the JWST aerospace This is the first time that the aircraft components are mechanically connected to the parasol and the spacecraft. Although both components of the telescope have been individually tested, this marks the first time the two halves have been combined into a single observation station. The milestone is an important milestone for Weber, as the telescope is moving in the direction of its planned launch in 2021.

JWST is the most powerful and complex space telescope ever built, 100 times more powerful than Hubble. The telescope is designed to use infrared light to explore the universe. It will enable astronomers to observe the most distant objects in the universe and provide images of distant stars, exoplanets and galaxies that originally formed. Telescopes are also exciting examples of how composite materials can make satellites and spacecraft work.

The telescope platform consists of three main components-Optical Telescope Element (OTE), Integrated Scientific Instrument Module (ISIM) and Spacecraft Element (SCE), including a spacecraft bus and a tennis court-sized sunshade.

JWST uses a carbon fiber base plate to support the mirrors, instruments and other components of the telescope-a total of more than 2,400 kilograms (2.5 tons) of hardware. This structure can also keep the telescope stable when collecting light for a long time. Although the extreme temperature range is -406°F to -343°F (-243°C to -208°C), the backplane cannot change more than 38 nanometers.

The bottom plate is made of prepreg containing carbon fiber provided by Toray Advanced Composites and cyanate ester resin from Toray Advanced Composites.

(Stamford, Connecticut, USA). The structure includes more than 10,000 lightweight carbon fiber composite parts. The entire backplane structure includes the central part, the wing assembly and the backplane support fixture (BSF). When fully deployed, its dimensions are approximately 24 feet high, 19.5 feet wide, and 11 feet deep (7.3 inches to 5.9 inches to 3.4 meters) ). It weighs only 2,180 pounds (989 kilograms), but will support instruments weighing more than 7,300 pounds (3311 kilograms), and its payload exceeds 300% of its own weight.  

In addition to the main mirror and backplane structure, JWST's OTE also includes its deployable tower assembly (DTA), auxiliary mirror support structure, and an ISIM frame for the scientific instruments and cooling system of the telescope. These structures are made of ultra-high modulus carbon fiber and cyanate ester resin prepreg produced by Toray Advanced Composites.

"These materials are very good optical platform materials," said Sean Johnson, Toray's thermoset product manager. "The high stiffness of UHM fiber provides a very stable structure and provides a certain degree of damping." It is very good at the low temperature of [JWST]. "

The SCE or spacecraft bus is also made of Toray's carbon fiber composite material and accommodates the spacecraft's propulsion system, observatory support system, solar energy, active cooling system and communication system. The bus must be lightweight at the same time, but it must be able to withstand the equivalent of 45 tons of force when supporting the observatory during launch.

JWST successfully passed the shading deployment test in October 2019 and is currently scheduled to start in 2021.

The next few years will lay the foundation for a new era of space exploration. As the spacecraft and systems required for this new golden age continue to evolve, composite material suppliers and manufacturers will continue to face challenges to push materials and technologies to new limits. 

Yes, advanced forms are under development, but has the technology developed enough to constitute a business case?

The structure produced by the continuous compression molding process is 30% lighter than aluminum, and the costs of Airbus and Boeing are on sale.

Next-generation aerospace programs require higher temperatures in structures and hot zone components, which has promoted advances in thermoset resin chemistry.

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