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Engineering Materials
Pegasus XL Launch Rocket Flies on Composites
7/9/2012

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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 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)

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naperlou
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Composites used for decades
naperlou   7/9/2012 9:24:10 AM
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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. 

Rob Spiegel
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Quite an endorsement
Rob Spiegel   7/9/2012 5:31:21 PM
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Nice piece, Ann. This is quite an endorsement for composites -- a NASA endorsement. One small step for NASA, one large step for composites.

Charles Murray
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Re: Quite an endorsement
Charles Murray   7/9/2012 8:03:00 PM
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I agree, Rob. Seems like the ideal application for composites, where the high cost isn't a concern, as it would be in high-production-volume apps.

notarboca
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Re: Quite an endorsement
notarboca   7/10/2012 1:10:36 AM
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I will be the first to say that I am scared to death of flight composites (see Airbus failures, give me a DC-9 (shut up old man :-)), but I am also aware that these are amazing pieces of hardware.  Congrats on the phenominal achievement of space-rated composites!

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Quite an endorsement
Rob Spiegel   7/10/2012 11:20:26 AM
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Also, Chuck, this application shows a lot of confidence in the durability of composites. I wouldn't think NASA would use it if it didn't beat or meet the durability of alternatives.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Composites used for decades
Ann R. Thryft   7/10/2012 11:54:03 AM
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Thanks for your input, naperlou. Aerospace composites aren't particularly new, as you rightly pointed out. But making all or part of the booster/launch vehicle out of them is definitely new.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Quite an endorsement
Ann R. Thryft   7/10/2012 11:55:16 AM
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notarboca, if you're referring to the Airbus wing failures http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1392&doc_id=245829 those were not caused by a composite problem, but by a problem with an apparently mis-spec'ed aluminum alloy and the misunderstanding on the part of design engineers about how to interface that alloy with composites. Also, it took 10 years for that problem to show up, and so far there have been no accidents caused by it. Personally, I'm more concerned with the airlines' lowered maintenance standards for commercial aircraft.

notarboca
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Re: Quite an endorsement
notarboca   7/10/2012 2:02:56 PM
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Right you are Ann.  The airlines' lower maintenence standards are just stupid.

 

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Quite an endorsement
Ann R. Thryft   7/10/2012 2:07:25 PM
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Rob, I agree about the NASA endorsement. I was excited to see that several instrument benches were made of composites on this satellite, as is the optical bench on the Juno.

notarboca
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Re: Quite an endorsement
notarboca   7/10/2012 2:54:29 PM
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Oh, one more thing for Airbus, how is it allowed in hardware/software that a rudder command can make the tail, ie., vertical stabiliser fall off?  (New York crash).

I'm sure that Airbus will address the composite issue, and it is a materiel interface problem, awfully hard to predict.

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