Piezoelectric Bolt Breakers and Bolt Fatigue Testers

Safer alternative to spacecraft explosive bolts may accelerate fatigue testing on Earth.

A proposed family of devices for inducing fatigue in bolts in order to break the bolts would incorporate piezoelectric actuators into resonant fixtures as in ultrasonic/ sonic drills/corers and similar devices described in numerous prior NASA Tech Briefs articles. These devices were originally intended primarily for use as safer, more-reliable, more-versatile alternatives to explosive bolts heretofore used to fasten spacecraft structures that must subsequently be separated from each other quickly on command during flight. On Earth, these devices could be used for accelerated fatigue testing of bolts.

A Bolt To Be Fatigue-Tested or simply broken by accelerated fatigue would be tightened as an integralpart of a resonant assembly that would also include piezoelectric actuators that would apply anoscillatory component of tensile stress.
Fatigue theory suggests that a bolt subjected to both a constant-amplitude dynamic (that is, oscillatory) stress and a static tensile stress below the ultimate strength of the bolt material will fail faster than will a bolt subjected to only the dynamic stress. This suggestion would be applied in a device of the proposed type. The device would be designed so that the device and the bolt to be fatigue-tested or broken would be integral parts of an assembly (see figure).

The static tension in the tightened bolt would apply not only the clamping force to hold the joined structures (if any) together but also the compression necessary for proper operation of the piezoelectric actuators as parts of a resonant structural assembly. The constantamplitude dynamic stress would be applied to the bolt by driving the piezoelectric actuators with a sinusoidal voltage at the resonance frequency of longitudinal vibration of the assembly. The amplitude of the excitation would be made large enough so that the vibration would induce fatigue in the bolt within an acceptably short time.

In the spacecraft applications or in similar terrestrial structural-separation applications, devices of the proposed type would offer several advantages over explosive bolts: Unlike explosive bolts, the proposed devices would be reusable, could be tested before final use, and would not be subject to catastrophic misfire. In fatigue-testing applications, devices of the proposed type would offer advantages of compactness and low cost, relative to conventional fatigue-testing apparatuses. In both structural-separation and fatigue-testing applications, bolts to be broken or tested could be instrumented with additional ultrasonic transducers for monitoring of pertinent physical properties and of fatigue failure processes.

This work was done by Stewart Sherrit, Mircea Badescu, Yoseph Bar-Cohen, Jack Barengoltz, and Vanessa Heckman of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

This Brief includes a Technical Support Package (TSP).

Piezoelectric Bolt Breakers and Bolt Fatigue Testers (reference NPO-43977) is currently available for download from the TSP library.

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