ÉireComposites has completed structural testing of a scaled demonstrator, thus reaching a key milestone in the Future Launchers Preparedness Program (FLPP) project. The European Space Agency (ESA) has provided €1.9m towards the project and the resulting 0.5m cylindrical demonstrator was manufactured from high-performance thermoplastic composite material using the state-of-the-art Automated Tape Placement (ATP) process.
The material used to manufacture the cylinder comprises of uni-directional carbon fibres which were pre-impregnated with PEEK to form a tape. This tape was fed into the ATP machine which uses a high-powered laser and rollers, mounted to a robotic arm, to in-situ consolidate the material to a heated tool. The heated tooling was designed and built by ÉireComposites and access to the ATP machine at the University of Limerick was obtained through IComp.
Structural testing of the cylinder focused on a uni-axial compression test where loads exceeded 300kN (36 tonnes). A customised test-fixture was designed in-house to introduce the load into the structure. The cylinder performed as predicted in FEA calculations thus validating ÉireComposites earlier theoretical work.
The FLPP project ultimately aims to develop new manufacturing methods and material combinations for ESA’s next generation of launch vehicles.