NASA seeks 'ultra-lightweight' core materials for future space vehicles

NASA plans to increase the use of carbon fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) composites in launch vehicle and pressurised structure components. Many of these components are based on composite sandwich structures – consisting of two thin skins of CFRP, either side of a lightweight core – which are used extensively in the aerospace industry and other applications where it is important to reduce weight while maintaining structural strength.

Technology drives exploration and ultra-lightweight materials will play a key role in our future missions.
Michael Gazarik, associate administrator for Space Technology, NASA

The goal of this NASA Game Changing Development Program is to develop and demonstrate scalable and cost-effective manufacturing approaches to produce ultra-lightweight core materials both as flat panels and curved structures. The final products will have half or less the area density of conventional honeycomb core materials, with equal or better mechanical properties.

The reduced mass will lead to an increase in NASA's mission capability while decreasing mission costs.

Proposals will be accepted from US organisations, including NASA centres and other government agencies, federally-funded R&D centres, educational institutions, industry and non-profit organisations. NASA expects to make two awards of up to $550,000 each for this first development phase.

The solicitation, entitled SpaceTech-REDDI-2015 NNH15ZOA001N-15GCD-C1 Ultra-lightweight Core Materials for Efficient Load-Bearing Composite Sandwich Structures Appendix, is available through the NASA Solicitation and Proposal Integrated Review and Evaluation System website

NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, manages the Game Changing Development programme.