The recent launch of SpaceX Falcon Heavy has reinforced that carbon fibre and thermoplastic resins have the power to break the technological barriers of space travel. This is an important milestone, not only for private space travel, but also for companies focused on the production of high-performance composite applications.
Falcon Heavy is the most powerful operational rocket in the world – only the Saturn V moon rocket, last flown in 1973, delivered more payload to orbit. To help achieve this extraordinary feat, the latest weight saving technologies had to be used.
Cue Carbon Fibre Composites…
Carbon fibre composites are lightweight, strong, recyclable and able to be reformed. They add strength without adding lots of weight, have greater resilience, and a single piece can replace an entire assembly of parts – keeping the weight, and the need for maintenance down. Composites are also inherently corrosion resistant, and able to stand up to severe weather and wide temperature changes – just what you need for space travel!
Which parts of a rocket can be made from composites?
The fairing, re-entry nose cones, control rods and small internal structural parts can all be made with composite materials. In Falcon Heavy the interstage is a composite structure with an aluminium honeycomb core and carbon fibre face sheets.
Thermoset plastics – a significant milestone in the quest for private space travel
The use of carbon fibre composites in the making of Falcon Heavy is a very important part of the picture when it comes to getting “big stuff” into space, and the ultimate goals of deep space travel and populating other planets!
Carbon fibre thermoset plastics however, could help space travel dreams come true for the many startups that have their sights set on the same successes as SpaceX . As well as having the benefit of low weight and great resilience, thermoplastic pultrusion processes can run at faster production line speeds, and it is cleaner than thermoset pultrusion. This means it has the potential to be cost-effective, and therefore more accessible to those without the same budget as SpaceX.
Pultrex high performance thermoplastic pultrusion
Here at Pultrex, the Research and Development department has been working on small diameter carbon fibre thermoset plastic rods and narrow flat strips. These are currently being evaluated and strength tested, and we hope one day they will help companies like SpaceX to reach their orbital aspirations.