Friday, February 5, 2010
The biggest limitation of doing absolutely any thing in space is it takes a lot of fuel therefore money to get something from Earth into Low Earth Orbit. So anything that reduces the weight of a Space Capsule, or Satellite, or anything you plan on sending into space saves a lot of money.
One area of research that was being pursued on the Constellation Program was making all composite capsules. The capsules were made out of Carbon Fiber which has a strength to weight ratio 10 times greater than steel. If all things were exactly equal, which they aren’t, you could replace 10 pounds of steel with 1 pound of Carbon Fiber. If things were that simple my 3,000 lb Nissan Sentra could weigh 300 lbs and to replace a tire I would need to lift a quarter of that weight, 75 lbs, and put a block under it. No need for a jack.
In the real world things aren’t that simple, steel bends easier than Carbon Fiber, Steel resists heat better and steel isn’t affected by ultraviolet radiation.
Most importantly steel has been used for centuries so its properties are well known. Carbon Fiber is relatively new on the block and researchers are still finding surprises with it.
That’s why it is important for NASA to continue to research into what areas in space capsules, and by extension planes and cars, Carbon Fiber can be used to replace steel and what areas need to remain steel.
As NASA researches into Carbon Fiber’s properties engineers will be more comfortable in handling it and it will work it’s way into more products driving the cost down. While using Carbon Fiber alone won’t make the next generation of sub-compacts weight 1/10th of the current models, even a reduction in half would greatly increase my fuel economy and give it a better power to weight ratio making it perform better.
As NASA continues to research the properties of Carbon Fiber, it will give engineers more options in making consumer products that work better, leading to a fantastic future.