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.
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?
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:
@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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