Protecting people in space
The market for aerospace composites is continuing to develop strongly, with a significant rise in demand recorded in 2013. TenCate Advanced Composites occupies a leading position in this market, particularly in the United States. From its production sites in Morgan Hill and Fairfield (California, US) it offers a wide range of advanced thermoset composite materials for satellites, exploration vehicles, and rockets for manned and unmanned flights. Customers include Boeing, Lockheed Martin, NASA, Orbital Sciences, Space Systems/Loral (SSL), SpaceX (US) and Astrium (France, Germany, UK).
TenCate has supported NASA and Lockheed Martin in missions to Mars, the Asteriod Belt, and the outer planets, including those involving the exploration vehicles Rover and Curiosity. TenCate Advanced Composites USA supplied carbon-fibre-reinforced composite material for building the primary structure of the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) space probe, and a thermoset composite frame was produced for the heat shield of the Mars lander Curiosity.
TenCate supplied composites to SpaceX for the Falcon 9 (picture, courtesy © SpaceX). This is a two-stage rocket that SpaceX has developed and built for the transport of satellites and the Dragon space capsule. The materials must meet extraordinarily high demands as regards temperature and structural performance in order to protect astronauts as they re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere. SpaceX is the first commercial company that has reached the International Space Station.
Falcon 9 with Dragon spacecraft (photo: SpaceX)
The TenCate composite materials have already undergone various qualification processes. ‘Once you are qualified for one part, it is very costly for the materials manufacturer to alter this. So that’s an advantage of being qualified,’ explains Steve Mead (Vice President of Sales and Marketing North Americas). ‘It is difficult to replace our material − even if it were necessary. Our materials have satisfactorily proved themselves. Existing materials in a number of structures have been replaced by thermoset materials from TenCate. The value proposition of TenCate for SpaceX is our responsiveness, technical innovation, willingness to customize a solution to fit their needs, and cost leadership. We have a dedicated on-site technical engineer working hand in hand with the SpaceX team, which speeds up the learning and innovation cycle.’
In 2011 SpaceX announced that it was going to develop a new and even more powerful commercial rocket: the Falcon Heavy (picture: SpaceX). This 70-metre-long rocket consists of a Falcon 9 rocket coupled with two Falcon 9 auxiliary rockets. TenCate Advanced Composites develops and supports comparable and supplementary applications for the Falcon Heavy. The Falcon Heavy is designed to carry the largest payload to orbit since the Saturn V. It is also suitable for manned flights and can reach the Moon and even Mars. It is expected that the first human test flight will be carried out in two to three years’ time.