WEST LAFAYETTE — Achieving affordable space exploration will require lightweight structures for vehicles, solar panels and antennas.
Lightweight materials will also be used for structural components such as pressure habitats, cryogenic tanks, landing gear and lattice cages.
The problem is that NASA envisions that many of these structures will be made from custom composite materials, but no design tool has been able to fully exploit the materials’ full potential.
AnalySwift LLC, a commercial software provider affiliated with Purdue University, and Wenbin Yu, a professor at Purdue’s School of Aeronautics and Astronautics, are conducting research to create one. Yu is the lead researcher. Liang Zhang of AnalySwift and Xin Liu of the University of Texas at Arlington are co-investigators.
Allan Wood, president and CEO of AnalySwift, said existing design tools were developed for traditional composites, which have straight fibers. If an open area is needed inside a traditional composite structure, this is often done by creating a cutout after it is fabricated, which can compromise the integrity of the structure.
“Bespoke composites, also known as tow-steering or variable-thickness composites, however, can be highly customized through manufacturing improvements,” he said. “New robotic techniques can weave fibers around areas intended for openings, expanding design options while improving the overall properties of structures.”
AnalySwift has been awarded a one-year, $125,000 Phase I STTR contract from NASA for a project titled “An Efficient, High-Fidelity Design Tool for Advanced Customizable Composites”.
Yu said the project will benefit NASA and related agencies and industries by harnessing the potential of customizable composites to design better lightweight structures.
“The resulting efficient and high-fidelity design tool developed in this project will shorten the design and analysis period of custom-made composite structures,” Yu said.
Wood said the design tool will have applications on Earth as well as in space, including aerospace, power and wind, automotive, marine and other industries.
“The tool could also help improve the design of high-performance, customizable structures such as prosthetics, electronics and sporting goods with reduced design cost and time,” he said.