The proposed research aims to develop a metal matrix composite (MMC) fabric that, when combined with additive manufacturing, will lead to weight reduction, increased structural performance, and reduce fabrication costs of structural components within launch vehicles. The approach focuses on developing a MMC fabric that will be used to selectively reinforce metallic components that are subjected to multi-axial forces while in service. The MMC fabric is able to be applied like traditional composite panels (i.e. multiple plies at different orientations) allowing for a tailorable reinforcement material that can be placed in the direction of the loading axes. By using a selective reinforcement additive manufacturing approach, the MMC fabric can be placed strategically within areas of high-stresses and only in these areas allowing for cost savings and weight reductions due to the need of less of the base material in these locations. The combination of the MMC fabric and additive manufacturing will lead to enhanced lightweight, cost-effective structures for various applications.
The effort has broad applications across many NASA missions. Stiffened structures exist in most launch vehicles, especially in the tank structures due to launch stresses and extreme temperatures. Any load bearing structure could benefit from a multifunctional, lightweight reinforcement material like the MMC Fabric proposed in this effort. Some examples of these structures are launch vehicles (present and future), crew vehicles, surface habitats, robotic explorers, or cryogenic tank structures.
Non-NASA applications include aircraft, ground vehicles, and aluminum ship designs. Commercial aircraft will benefit by utilizing MMC Fabric selective reinforcement concepts to reduce weight. The automotive market will benefit from MMC fabric by utilizing it in components such as aluminum and magnesium castings or flywheels for hybrid vehicles. The commercial aerospace industry could also incorporate the MMC fabric by using the material in launch vehicles and satellite components.