An artist's concept drawing shows NASA's NuSTAR X-ray observatory satellite fully extended after launch. Parts of NuSTAR and its Pegasus XL launch rocket are made of carbon composites. (Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
Bobjebgr, I think you're right about figuring out how composites will age in space: this is all pretty new and the NuSTAR satellite (as well as the Juno satellite) is an experiment in that direction. Composites have been used in aircraft for several decades, so there's already a lot of industry knowledge about wear due to UV and strikes. Regarding NuSTAR details, you may find answers at the link to the NASA site we gave in the article. There's also some discussion in the comments to the Juno spacecraft article: http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1392&doc_id=244386
Good article Ann—one thing interesting to me is how composites will hold up relative to their environment. I suspect the ability to judge the aging process of the composites used for the satellite, while in space, is basically a guessing-game. I'm talking specifically about UV and radiation received by the structure as years progress. Another factor, strikes by debris and very small projectiles (meteorites) flying by. Ann, do you know if there are sensors to indicate "hits" taken by the satellite while in use? Also, are there mechanisms that will gage degradation and aging?
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.
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!
Oak Ridge National Laboratory has developed a surface preparation method to improve joining carbon composites with aluminum, with potentially far-reaching ramifications for high-volume industrial applications.
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