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European Carbon Fibres and Pre-Impregnated Materials for Space Applications

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - SpaceCarbon (European Carbon Fibres and Pre-Impregnated Materials for Space Applications)

Reporting period: 2018-01-01 to 2019-06-30

The European Space Industry faces risks of supply restrictions and shortages of raw materials used in the manufacturing of Spacecraft structures, due to its high dependency from non-European countries. In particular, continuous carbon fibres (CF) and related pre-impregnated materials, compliant with space needs, are still not supplied by any European company. In that scope, SpaceCarbon project aims to implement industrial, and research and development facilities to make Europe independent from non-European sources of these materials.
A consortium highly specialised in all required fields is working together to achieve such ambitious goals, also based on experience and lessons learnt in a previous project (EUCARBON), where carbon fibres entering the high modulus range had been successfully produced. The scope covered include carbon fibre industrial process optimization and stabilisation at SGL Composites, laboratorial scale prepreg manufacturing and resin formulation at INEGI, industrial scale prepreg and production at AVIO, continuous material characterization at AAC (space relevant conditions) and NTUA (advanced characterization) and demonstrator requirements and assembly by both AVIO (launchers) and ASE (satellites).
Carbon fibre composites lightweight is one of the main drivers for applications in transport sector, associated with the diminishing of fossil fuel consumption and consequent reduction of carbon dioxide emissions; in fact, a continuous growth of around 10% is forecasted for the upcoming years for the CF use, with stability guaranteed by the aerospace & defence, energy (wind turbines) and sport/leisure sectors, as well as automotive and pressure vessels sub-segments. Besides this, the CF properties (mechanical, thermal and electrical) can unleash unexploited potentials on other sectors due to theirs remarkable performance, multifunctionality and lightweight.
During the first 18th months of the project the following main results were achieved:
- The demonstrators that will be manufactured with European CF were identified. With intermediate modulus fibre, a reduced scale vessel and a structural component that connects the motor case to the launcher (called “skirt”) will be manufactured by AVIO; high modulus fibres will be used to obtain a full-scale reflector as well as a tube; the material requirements for both IM and HM fibres were also defined.
- Materials that meet such stablished requirements are being developed – CF, prepregs and laminates – and tested through technics such as mechanical testing, ultrasonic inspections, Raman spectroscopy, nanoindentiation or SEM observations;
- So far, IM modulus with 50k and 24k filaments in the range of 320 GPa of tensile modulus and 5500-5900 GPa of tensile strength were manufactured at SGL Composites; laminates manufactured with both fibres were able to attain the desired properties (tensile strength and modulus in both fibre direction and normal to fibre direction).
- Regarding the CF production, the manufacturing process is being optimized and the subsequent surface treatments and sizing to promote adhesion to the selected resin formulation are being performed;
- The optimization of polymer precursor for high modulus fibres is being explored, taking into account experience gained in EUCARBON project; SGL team is also focusing their efforts in reducing filament numbers, as so, first IM fibres in 12k filaments were already manufactured.
- A life cycle assessment is being conducted as a mean to explore ways of reducing SpaceCarbon’s ecological footprint; the initial exercise already confirmed that the main environmental impacts for the development of pre-impregnation formulations are dominated by the used CF.
Currently, the consortium was able to produce European-based IMCF and the testing confirmed that they are in the range of the defined requirements for launchers.
The trials performed to the 50k CF shown a 30% compliance with IMCF specifications, while, for the tensile modulus the specifications were more often compliable (around 75%). Differently, for 24 and 12k the compliance was achieved for all samples tested to tensile modulus. However, additional optimization work needs to be performed in increase the tensile strength.
These fibre properties are being currently covered by non-European companies (mostly Hexcel and Toray), as demonstrated in the picture below, showing a good progress regarding the state of the art of materials availability at Europe. This is representative of a significant progress of the European capacity to manufacture these specialty materials, potentially boosting the economy, besides opening more opportunities for emerging markets to benefit by the use of these fibres and prepregs

As for the CF density the achieved values shown a good perspective for improvement of tensile properties. They are lower than launcher’s requirements, in the three types of tested CF (50, 24 and 12k), in the case of elongation, except for 50k CF which reach the requirement for some of the performed trials, the obtained results were lower than requirements.
First uni-directional laminate plates manufactured at INEGI with SGL IMCF with two different roving sizes of 50k and 24k were successfully tested with respect to its tensile properties parallel and normal to the fibre direction. Both values were above the required values for AVIO´s launcher application. A number of suitable resin systems for prepreg production selected by INEGI were subjected to outgassing test in order to validate its applicability to space applications. All four resin systems survived the outgassing test demonstrating their suitability to be used in composite parts to be used in space, due to theirs different processing characteristics.

Throughout SpaceCarbon it is expected to impact:
- The dependence on critical technologies and capabilities from outside Europe for future space applications is reduced
- Open new competition opportunities for European manufacturers by reducing the dependency on export restricted technologies that are of strategic importance to future European space efforts
- Improve the overall European space technologies landscape and complement the activities of European and national Space programmes
- Fostering links between academia and industry, accelerating and broadening technology transfer
- Promote industry engagement and create a corporate route-to-market within Europe CF and advanced carbon fibres reinforced polymers (CFRP) pre-impregnated materials for demanding Space applications, which can be understood as a technology push benefiting other sectors
- Contribute to ongoing deep changes on the overall mobility sector, through the development of novel lightweight materials
- Create job opportunities and training among the researchers directly involved in the project.
Launcher Demonstrator - Pressure Vessel
Laminate cross section - SEM
Pre-impregnated
Satellite Demonstrator - Full scale reflector
Tensile Strengh vs Tensile modulus of CF
Lab Scale equipment for pre-impregnation
Satellite Demonstrator - Tube