Carbon nanotube reinforce Composites can reduce space vehicle mass by 30%

NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) is keenly interested in nanotechnology – an approach that can reduce the mass and improve the performance of aerospace systems. NASA computer modeling analysis has shown that composites using carbon nanotube reinforcements could lead to a 30 percent reduction in the total mass of a launch vehicle.

“No single technology would have that much of an impact to reduce the mass of a launch vehicle by that much,” explains Michael Meador, Program Element Manager for Lightweight Materials and Manufacturing at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio.

Tensile properties of a carbon nanotube fiber-based composite tank were tested in a May 16 test flight.

NASA collaborated with Nanocomp in Merrimack, New Hampshire to make nanotube yarns and sheets, with the space agency developing specialized processing methods to fabricate COPVs.

Nanocomp’s Miralon sheets can also be used to produce honeycomb core structures. When configured with carbon fiber face sheets, composite honeycomb cores produced with Miralon offer a 3-5x increase in stiffness over aluminum core along with outstanding near-zero coefficient of thermal expansion (CTE) performance – all with reduced weight and improved mechanical damping.

CableWire is another opportunity for significant weight savings is cabling in payload. Data cables made with both Miralon yarn and tape offer a potential weight savings of up to 70% percent when compared to incumbent materials. The inclusion of Miralon also allows for solutions requiring tighter bend radii as well as providing near-infinite flex-life. As a result, Miralon-based components significantly contribute to mission assurance goals and require less maintenance than the incumbent solutions.

The net results are dramatically reduced system weight, along with more efficient systems, yielding lower fuel consumption and carbon emissions, lower operating costs and, ultimately, lower overall systems costs.