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Materials & Assembly

Composites Boost Vega Satellite Launcher

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naperlou
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The whole thing?
naperlou   3/22/2012 9:31:52 AM
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Wow!  I have many years experience in the aerospace industry.  I have seen composites used, long ago, for upper stages, which operate in space.  I have not seen that done for the while launcher.  It should not be suprising considering what is being done for aircraft.  This is really interesting and a real breakthrough.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: The whole thing?
Ann R. Thryft   3/22/2012 12:43:36 PM
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naperlou, I was also surprised to see composites in a launcher. It just goes to show how tough carbon fiber composites can be. The fact that Vega has already completed its maiden flight says a lot.


TJ McDermott
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Re: The whole thing?
TJ McDermott   3/22/2012 3:42:23 PM
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I'd be interested to learn if the range-safety package had to be scaled up or down for the material change.  The range-safety package is (usually) an explosive designed to rip open the booster in a controlled manner in case of loss of control.  This permits the propellant to burn at altitude and at zero pressure (instead of in the thrust chamber).

Is it easier or more difficult to split the side of a composite booster?

Charles Murray
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Re: The whole thing?
Charles Murray   3/22/2012 6:21:58 PM
Ann, do we know what's changed here? Why weren't composites used previously in launchers and what material qualities are enabling them to be used now?

3drob
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airborn pollutants
3drob   3/23/2012 9:47:46 AM
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Do these materials pose a risk once made airborn?  Carbon fibers are certainly more dangerous than other materials (biologically) so if they atomize they may cause issues. 

But even as a bulk material, will carbon fibers simply burn up or remain as a large object falling to earth and pose a blunt object risk?

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: The whole thing?
Ann R. Thryft   3/23/2012 12:38:57 PM
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TJ, those are interesting questions. I didn't find a lot of technical detail about the design. However, there's some info at this link (even though it's called a press kit):

http://download.esa.int/docs/VEGA/Vega_PressKit_06-02-2012_EN.pdf


Ann R. Thryft
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Re: The whole thing?
Ann R. Thryft   3/23/2012 12:40:00 PM
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Chuck, composites have been used in launchers before, but not for the entire shell. The reasons for their use are basically the same ones as in other aerospace apps: light weight and toughness. CFR composites just keep getting stronger. Here's some info from Hexcel:

http://www.hexcel.com/solutions/aerospace/aspace-and-launchers

http://www.hexcel.com/Solutions/Aerospace/ALaunchers


Ann R. Thryft
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Re: airborn pollutants
Ann R. Thryft   3/23/2012 12:40:47 PM
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3drob, if by airborne you mean more or less in flight, then no--CFR composites have been used in aircraft for several decades, including military aircraft:

http://www.designnews.com/document.asp?doc_id=235863

and have been well tested for use in commercial planes:

http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1386&doc_id=235214

If you mean burning up or falling back to earth, I don't see why these would be more dangerous than metals offhand. What specifically did you mean?


TJ McDermott
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Re: The whole thing?
TJ McDermott   3/23/2012 12:43:00 PM
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I think Thiokol's Castor solid rocket booster is a composite wound structure, but that's smaller than the Vega booster (I think).

Dave Palmer
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Re: airborn pollutants
Dave Palmer   3/23/2012 12:49:59 PM
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@3drob: Inhalation of carbon fibers is not really all that dangerous, at least as far as inhalation of foreign substances goes. (When it comes to carbon nanotubes, it may be a different story).  At any rate, the airborne concentration of carbon fibers produced by re-entry of a launch vehicle is likely to be extremely small -- the earth's atmosphere is really big, and fibers are likely to be widely dispersed by the time they reach ground level.  Inhalation hazards are more of a concern for people working in composites manufacturing, where it is important to have adequate personal protective equipment.

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