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NASA/Industry/University Team Developing Ultra-High-Strength Composites From Carbon Nanotubes

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Replacement of conventional carbon fiber-reinforced composites with advanced composites reinforced with carbon nanotube-based fibers and fabrics can lead to substantial reductions in aerospace vehicle weight and improvements in vehicle performance. Under the Space Technology Mission Directorate’s Game Development Program, scientists at the NASA Glenn and Langley Research Centers are working with industry (Nanocomp Technologies and General Nano) and universities (University of Cincinnati, Kent State and Michigan Tech) to develop carbon nanotube reinforcements with 1 ½ to 2 times the tensile strength of conventional aerospace-grade carbon fiber.

This team is utilizing modeling and simulation together with experimental approaches to explore ways of improving the mechanical properties of commercially available carbon nanotube reinforcements through a combination of processing modifications and post-processing treatments to produce materials with better nanotube alignment and increased bonding between nanotubes. Post-processing treatments include approaches to introduce chemical bonds between nanotubes (cross-linking) using electron beam irradiation, reactive molecule/polymer cross-linking, and polymer infusion. In addition, the team is investigating the use of conventional composite processing and fabrication methods to produce composites from these advanced reinforcements to determine the effects of their use on increasing composite strength and durability. Materials developed under this effort will be scaled up and used in component-level demonstration efforts to fabricate and test sub-scale aerospace components.

NASA is collaborating in this activity with the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and other DOD agencies under the National Nanotechnology Initiative’s Sustainable Nanomanufacturing Signature Initiative.

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