The development of next-generation thermal protection systems (TPSs) is a critical focus for NASA, which is spearheading the advancement of automated fabrication techniques for 3D woven TPSs, which can potentially be tailored to provide weave architectures with mission-specific properties for applications such as deployable heat shields (ADEPT) and interplanetary probes (HEEET). Full application of the technology is hindered by a lack of understanding of automated loom manufacturing processes and the resulting woven products’ thermomechanical properties. ATA Engineering proposes a Phase I project to improve the control and quality of 3D weaving processes through development of an analysis-driven weaving diagnostics technology. The technology will be incorporated into ATA’s COMPAS material modeling framework to support uniform scaling up of 3D woven preforms and accurate prediction of resulting macroscale properties.
ATA will implement a physics-based analytical modeling approach to capture the process-to-properties link. The analysis workflow will involve four key components: (1) a kinematic virtual fiber model capable of modeling flexible yarn behavior, large yarn displacements, and contact during the weaving process, (2) a solid mechanics model to map the deformed weave state and fiber loads/damage to a unit cell representation of the weave, (3) a second solid mechanics FEM to represent the void space between the yarns in the unit cell, which will be virtually infiltrated to estimate material system continuum properties, and (4) a solid mechanics coupon-scale model of the final 3D composite that can be used for virtual testing to recover the as-manufactured material properties.
In Phase II, ATA will work with 3D-weaving stakeholders to apply the technology to a relevant loom. The analytical tool will link the loom processes and diagnostics to the weave properties and mechanical response, creating a path for more robust WTPS characterization and qualification.
The development of WTPS architectures is critical to several future NASA missions: Mars sample return, high-speed crew return, high-mass Mars landers, and Venus and gas/ice giant probes. The analytical approaches proposed will inform strategies for developing increased control capabilities for the 3D weaving processes, which will enable material optimization for these missions. The technology has promise to improve WTPSs used in NASA applications by providing the material properties early in design and reducing time to qualification.
Potential defense applications for advanced 3D woven composites (3DWCs) and the analytical technology for custom tailoring them include rocket motor nozzles and thermal protection structures for hypersonic vehicles (e.g., leading edges, nosetips, and aeroshells). Commercial applications include use in the design of structural elements in civil infrastructure.