NASA, the space agency for the U.S. government, has investigated the use of advanced composites for use in future vehicle programs. The Composite Crew Module (CCM) has been designed and built as a travel vehicle for astronauts in future space programs to travel. Drawing parallels to the Apollo program, this module will be launched on a rocket and break away as a module.
This technology and material are undergoing testing and evaluation before it is officially accepted for the Orion program. As a partnership between government agencies and public companies, this technology aims to reduce weight and improve performance of the manned vehicles.
From NASA’s website “Led by the NESC, the project team is a partnership between NASA and industry, including design, manufacturing, and tooling expertise. Partners are civil servants from nine NASA Centers – ARC, DFRC, GRC, GSFC, JSC, JPL, KSC, LaRC, and MSFC; the Air Force Research Laboratories; and contractors from Alcore, Alliant Techsystems, Bally Ribbon Mills, Collier Corporation, Genesis Engineering, Janicki Industries, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman. The CCM team operates in a virtual environment, electronically connecting participants across the country.”
This full-scale structure has strain gauges attached to monitor loads on the structure. It was announced on January 25 that it has passed a battery of stress tests to prove viability.
The structure appears to be made with carbon fiber materials, maybe with some graphite reinforcement and an epoxy resin system. Mention of aluminum honeycomb can be found in the online reading materials. The main pieces are autoclaved, while bonding of the large sections (upper and lower shells) is accomplished outside of the autoclave.
Composites technology is being developed for future space exploration structures and vehicles, and this is good news for the composites industry!