The Pegasus XL rocket's aft skirt fins are constructed from a single-piece, solid, foam core and wet-laid carbon composite construction around a central titanium shaft. Its wing panels consist of a carbon-faced foam sandwich. The rocket wing's channel section spars that carry the primary bending loads and half-ribs are also made of carbon.
ATK provided the solar array that will power the NuSTAR satellite itself, as well as powering its onboard sensors for NASA's planned multiyear experiments. The company built the NuSTAR observatory's instrument structure, which includes an integrated focal plane bench and optical bench, both made of high-strength composites.
The two halves of the the Pegasus XL payload fairing's composite shell are shown here being cleaned and inspected at Vandenberg Air Force Base before the spacecraft is encapsulated. (Source: NASA/Randy Beaudoin, Vandenberg Air Force Base)
The focal plane bench serves as a stable, multi-functional platform for NuSTAR's instruments. It also functions as the primary interface to the satellite bus structure. During launch, this bench supports the stowed mast/canister and the optical bench with its integrated X-ray optics. The focal plane assembly's instrument electronics and metrology detectors are also mounted on this bench. These perform instrument alignment, focus, and data collection, which are all mission-critical operations.
The optical bench is a precision-engineered, highly stable structure responsible for supporting the X-ray optics modules, metrology lasers, adjustment mechanism, and star tracker. Held stable within the optical bench, the X-ray optics modules will acquire images as the NuSTAR satellite maps supernova explosions and searches for black holes.
Ann, while the application of composites for the booster is new stuff, their use in the spacecraft itself is old hat. I worked at one spacecraft plant where we made our own composites from raw materials. One of our direct competitors, with whom we were merged later on, got their composites from a company whose main business was railcars. It was an interesting revelation when we found out.
I actually worked on the testing of the UARS satelite structure. It was the first large composite structure. If you recall, UARS recently fell back to earth. It was one of the largest satellites to do so. It was the size of a school bus and filled the Shuttle cargo bay. In testing we found some interesting things out about how the composites reacted structurally. Now, this was in the 1980s. It would have been nice to have some of the more robust CAE tools available today.
Artificially created metamaterials are already appearing in niche applications like electronics, communications, and defense, says a new report from Lux Research. How quickly they become mainstream depends on cost-effective manufacturing methods, which will include additive manufacturing.
SpaceX has 3D printed and successfully hot-fired a SuperDraco engine chamber made of Inconel, a high-performance superalloy, using direct metal laser sintering (DMLS). The company's first 3D-printed rocket engine part, a main oxidizer valve body for the Falcon 9 rocket, launched in January and is now qualified on all Falcon 9 flights.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and MIT have 3D-printed a new class of metamaterials that are both exceptionally light and have exceptional strength and stiffness. The new metamaterials maintain a nearly constant stiffness per unit of mass density, over three orders of magnitude.
Smart composites that let the material's structural health be monitored automatically and continuously are getting closer to reality. R&D partners in an EU-sponsored project have demonstrated what they say is the first complete, miniaturized, fiber-optic sensor system entirely embedded inside a fiber-reinforced composite.
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