Innovative High-Temperature Material System To Provide Better
The Lockheed Martin-led team developing the Orion crew
exploration vehicle achieved a major technology milestone by
completing fabrication of the world's largest heat shield
structure. The shield is five meters (16.4 feet) in diameter and is
critical to the protection of the spacecraft and its crew from the
extreme temperatures experienced during re-entry. The work was
completed at Lockheed Martin's composite development facility in
The crew exploration vehicle is at the height of its development
phase, which has spurred several new technologies and innovations
such as a cutting edge high-temperature composite material system.
The new system was developed by the Lockheed Martin Orion thermal
protection system team in partnership with TenCate Advanced
Composites, a leading supplier of aerospace thermoset and
thermoplastic prepregs. TenCate's composite materials are used in
commercial aircraft, radomes, satellites, general aviation, oil and
gas, medical and high-end industrial applications.
"In addition to the technology advancement, we achieved a $10
million cost savings and improved the project schedule by 12 months
through the innovative tooling, materials and fabrication processes
the team put into action," explained Cleon Lacefield, Lockheed
Martin vice president and Orion program manager.
The new resin system was developed over an 18-month period
during which thousands of coupons were tested in extreme
environments that simulated a ballistic re-entry from a lunar
mission. The team verified that the thermal insulator on the
outside of the composite material can be thinner due to the higher
temperature capability, resulting in improved mass optimization of
the Orion spacecraft.
Orion Crew Module Artist's
The new resin system enables much simpler and more efficient
manufacturing techniques compared to other high temperature resin
systems. This resin system has the potential to be used in a wide
range of commercial applications including aircraft, automobiles,
launch vehicles, payload fairings, and re-entry vehicles.
The expansive heat shield will be applied to the Orion ground
test article, which is the first full-sized, flight-like test
article for Orion being built at the Michoud Assembly Facility in
New Orleans, LA. The ground test article is designed to serve as a
production pathfinder to validate the flight vehicle production
processes and tools. When completed, the crew module will be tested
on the ground in equivalent flight-like environments, including
static vibration, acoustics and water landing loads. This early
high fidelity testing is necessary to correlate sizing models for
all subsystems on the vehicle.