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.
As the 3D printing and overall additive manufacturing ecosystem grows, standards and guidelines from standards bodies and government organizations are increasing. Multiple players with multiple needs are also driving the role of 3DP and AM as enabling technologies for distributed manufacturing.
A growing though not-so-obvious role for 3D printing, 4D printing, and overall additive manufacturing is their use in fabricating new materials and enabling new or improved manufacturing and assembly processes. Individual engineers, OEMs, university labs, and others are reinventing the technology to suit their own needs.
For vehicles to meet the 2025 Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, three things must happen: customers must look beyond the data sheet and engage materials supplier earlier, and new integrated multi-materials are needed to make step-change improvements.
3D printing, 4D printing, and various types of additive manufacturing (AM) will get even bigger in 2015. We're not talking about consumer use, which gets most of the attention, but processes and technologies that will affect how design engineers design products and how manufacturing engineers make them. For now, the biggest industries are still aerospace and medical, while automotive and architecture continue to grow.
More and more -- that's what we'll see from plastics and composites in 2015, more types of plastics and more ways they can be used. Two of the fastest-growing uses will be automotive parts, plus medical implants and devices. New types of plastics will include biodegradable materials, plastics that can be easily recycled, and some that do both.
Focus on Fundamentals consists of 45-minute on-line classes that cover a host of technologies. You learn without leaving the comfort of your desk. All classes are taught by subject-matter experts and all are archived. So if you can't attend live, attend at your convenience.