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Enhanced SiC Matrix for Launch Vehicle Carbon / Carbon Composites


TECHNOLOGY AREA(S): Space Platforms 

OBJECTIVE: Develop affordable, high-temperature Carbon / Carbon composite materials that will reduce the manufacturing cost of critical launch vehicle components. 

DESCRIPTION: Two high-payoff areas for space launch applications in terms of performance are lowering the design weight and improving the high-temperature capabilities of advanced materials. Composites have become the material of choice for many applications because of their significant weight savings compared to conventional metallic structures. Improving the high temperature capability of composites while maintaining affordability has been more difficult to achieve and still remains a key objective. In solid rocket motors, structural components for which affordable, lighter-weight, high-temperature composites would provide the greatest payoff are cases, nozzles, and insulation. In liquid rocket motors, improved high-temperature capability offers the greatest payoff for thrust chambers, nozzles, and nozzle extensions. Carbon fiber /Carbon matrix composite materials are already in use on launch vehicles (e.g., RL10 nozzle extensions); however, the material and/or components are mostly procured from foreign suppliers. Initiatives are underway to develop high temperature Carbon / Carbon materials in the U.S. that can compete with foreign suppliers; however key technical and affordability challenges need to be overcome. One of these challenges is oxidation protection. Carbon / Carbon materials are vulnerable to oxidation at high temperatures and the current state-of-the-art SiC conversion coating process is a significant cost driver. This solicitation seeks to develop an enhanced SiC matrix that does not require high temperature furnaces or specialized coating retort tooling to make Carbon / Carbon materials oxidation resistant. If successful, this technology could enable affordable domestic production of Carbon / Carbon solid and liquid rocket engine components. Technology Need Date: 2023 (EELV Phase III) 

PHASE I: IA. Identify current / future launch vehicle components that could benefit from enhanced SiC matrix technology together with projected savings in lifecycle cost. IB. Develop manufacturing process plan, beginning with raw material procurement to end item production, including intermediate steps for material property validation, inspection, and quality control. 

PHASE II: IIA. Demonstrate manufacturing process for selected prototype structure, evaluate process scalability, and refine production cost estimates. IIB. Qualify process using building block approach, including generation of material allowables per CMH-17 for critical failure modes and analysis/testing to validate capability under flight environments (e.g., oxidation resistance). 

PHASE III: IIIA. Conduct full-scale,hot-fire test of prototype structure on representative rocket engine or motor. IIIB. Assess scalability for other aerospace or commercial applications. 


1: Composites Materials Handbook-17 (CMH-17) Revision G.

2:  Thompson, J., "High Melt Carbon-Carbon Coating for Nozzle Extensions," NASA NTRS Technical Report 20160005370, 1 August 2015.

3:  3. "Mechanical Properties and Performance of Engineering Ceramics and Composites: A Collection of Papers Presented at the 29th International Conference on Advanced Ceramics and Composites, Jan 23-28, 2005, Cocoa Beach, FL, Ceramic Engineering and Science Proceedings, Vol 26, Issue 2.

4:  Wachtman Jr., John B., et al., "Chapter 30. Oxidation Kinetics of Enhanced SiC/SiC," Proceedings of the 19th Annual Conference on Composites, Advanced Ceramics, Materials, and Structures – B: Ceramic Engineering and Science Proceedings, Vol 16, Issue 5, 26 Mar 2008.


KEYWORDS: Launch Vehicle, Liquid Rocket Engine, Solid Rocket Motor, Nozzle, Skirt, Carbon-carbon, Silicon-carbide, Composites, Coatings, High Temperature Environments, Thermal Protection, Durability, Materials Selection 

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