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SpaceX Falcon Heavy Launch Holds Promise for Carbon Fiber Composites

Last week, one of the most widely discussed stories in the world was SpaceX’s successful launch of its Falcon Heavy rocket, which contained Tesla Roadster inside its CFRP fairing. The Falcon Heavy is essentially three of SpaceX’s workhorse Falcon 9 vehicles strapped together. After launching, all three boost stages – the lower segments of the rocket – returned to Earth to attempt controlled landings.

“That was epic,” said Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX. “That’s probably the most exciting thing I’ve ever seen, literally.”

The Falcon Heavy’s use of composites extends beyond just the fairing. The interstage, which connects the upper and lower stages of the rockets, is a composite structure with an aluminum honeycomb core and carbon fiber face sheets.

SpaceX says the Falcon Heavy, the first of its kind for SpaceX, is the most powerful rocket in the world today. Only the Saturn V moon rocket, last flown in 1973, delivered more payload to orbit. With the ability to lift into orbit over 54 metric tons (119,000 lb)–a mass equivalent to a 737 jetliner loaded with passengers, crew, luggage and fuel–Falcon Heavy can lift more than twice the payload of the next closest operational vehicle, the Delta IV Heavy, at one-third the cost.

For companies with a stake in the success of high-performance composite applications, the success of the Falcon Heavy signifies great promise for the market. As Peter Hedger Jr. notes, there are plenty of other aerospace startups popping up which, like SpaceX, will depend on CFRP to build rockets that help them reach their orbital aspirations.

“What we’ve seen is that with the price of carbon fiber dropping and more adoption of advanced materials like basalt and carbon fiber, it’s allowing more and more companies to break those technological barriers to getting into space,” said Hedger Jr., Director of Marketing and Communications of Magnum Venus Products and Chairman of the High Performance Council at the American Composites Manufacturers Association (ACMA). Hedger Jr. believes there are many opportunities to help aerospace companies recognize how they can use composites to improve their adhesive and chemical bonding processes. He adds that the High Performance is planning an event for later this year that will help facilitate a dialogue between ACMA’s members and aerospace OEMs.

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» Author: Evan Milberg

» Publication Date: 12/02/2018

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This project has received funding from the European Union Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement n° [310187].