Through a combined analytical and experimental program, the effort proposed herein will develop an affordable, high-temperature capable composite material system to enable future small launch vehicle propulsion systems. Specifically, this program will focus on carbon-fiber reinforced carbon (C/C) materials with oxidation resistance provided via reactive melt infiltration (RMI) with Group IV A/B metals, such as silicon, zirconium, and hafnium. This material system has been successfully demonstrated over extended durations in high-temperature oxidizing liquid propellant environments, but currently, there is a lack of understanding regarding how this material can be optimally processed. To date, manufacturers have implemented a prototyping approach; many of the practices employed have, in some way, been derived from both experience and tribal knowledge. While this approach has been sufficient for the manufacture of prototype hardware, there exists a need for a better understanding of how the material behaves during processing. A program emphasizing multi-scale modeling and simulation of these materials through manufacturing and operational environments will seek to establish a relationship between a variety of process parameters and the quality of the resulting composite material. A successful Phase I program will establish the feasibility of using the developed CMC material in an environment relevant to small launch vehicle providers. The development of these high strength-to-weight ratio materials is critical in reducing launch costs for small spacecraft.
The government and commercial launch contractors with whom NASA engages are motivated to explore higher performance nozzle and throat materials for a wide range of boost and reaction control applications. The Phase I team has elected to pursue a low cost fabrication approach to eliminate the cost-related barriers to entry for using UHT composite materials. As a route for potentially deep cost reductions in UHT materials manufacturing, the solution is ideal for insertion into boost nozzle and other liquid rocket engine component applications.
The effort proposed would address a growing need in the hypersonics community for high-temperature capable, oxidation resistant C/C. Using the models developed, a C/C can be optimally infiltrated to form a variety of refractory carbide materials in a rapid, low-cost manner. These models developed can be used to optimize cycle times and reduce scrap rates in a production environment.