European carbon fibres and pre-impregnated materials for space
Materials for space applications and technological know-how are currently provided by non-European companies and there is a need for a manufacturing site owned by European capitals. Scientists on the EUCARBON (European space qualified carbon fibres and pre-impregnated based materials) project aimed to reduce the demand on foreign suppliers and high risk for future missions by developing the associated technology in Europe. Researchers produced high and ultra-high modulus carbon fibres and related prepreg materials for satellite subsystems applications. The prepregs had to be evaluated based on the resin modification with carbon nanotubes in order to improve their thermal and electrical conductivity. High modulus carbon fibres were obtained at a semi-industrial level at European manufacturing facilities. In addition, a fibre precursor for ultra-high modulus carbon fibres was developed. Moreover, the team produced associated prepregs with space qualified carbon fibres, while the pre-impregnation of European High Modulus carbon fibres met with success. As demonstrated, these materials were compliant with critical space applications requirements, such as the thermal cycling, outgassing, and maintaining suitable mechanical performance at low temperatures. Simultaneously, EUCARBON developed a suitable process while producing the prepregs with carbon nanotubes. They also established correlations between the carbon nanotubes' surface functionalities, loading ratios and different dispersion techniques on curing kinetics, rheology, dispersion and distribution. As a result, their impact on the pre-impregnation process and composites final properties was successfully evaluated. Based on the prepregs containing these high modulus carbon fibres, two space components demonstrators were designed and constructed. The first one is a tube-like strut and the second an antenna sub-reflector. Both performed according to expectations at materials level and can be manufactured at an industrial level. The achievements of the EUCARBON project are not limited to prepeg materials for space. The development of industrial facilities is also an important step to establish a European network in the field of high performance carbon fibre reinforced polymer composites.
Carbon fibres, pre-impregnated materials, space applications, EUCARBON, carbon nanotubes