Materials

Study of Rapid-Regression Liquefying Hybrid Rocket Fuels

A report describes experiments directed toward the development of paraffin-based hybrid rocket fuels that burn at regression rates greater than those of conventional hybrid rocket fuels like hydroxyl-terminated butadiene. The basic approach followed in this development is to use materials such that a hydrodynamically unstable liquid layer forms on the melting surface of a burning fuel body. Entrainment of droplets from the liquid/gas interface can substantially increase the rate of fuel mass transfer, leading to surface regression faster than can be achieved using conventional fuels. The higher regression rate eliminates the need for the complex multi-port grain structures of conventional solid rocket fuels, making it possible to obtain acceptable performance from single-port structures. The high-regression-rate fuels contain no toxic or otherwise hazardous components and can be shipped commercially as non-hazardous commodities. Among the experiments performed on these fuels were scale-up tests using gaseous oxygen. The data from these tests were found to agree with data from small-scale, low-pressure and low-mass-flux laboratory tests and to confirm the expectation that these fuels would burn at high regression rates, chamber pressures, and mass fluxes representative of full-scale rocket motors.

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Elastomer Filled With Single-Wall Carbon Nanotubes

Strength and stiffness increase with SWNT content. Experiments have shown that composites of a silicone elastomer with single-wall carbon nanotubes (SWNTs) are significantly stronger and stiffer than is the unfilled elastomer. The large strengthening and stiffening effect observed in these experiments stands in contrast to the much smaller strengthening effect observed in related prior efforts to reinforce epoxies with SWNTs and to reinforce a variety of polymers with multiple-wall carbon nanotubes (MWNTs). The relative largeness of the effect in the case of the silicone-elastomer/SWNT composites appears to be attributable to (1) a better match between the ductility of the fibers and the elasticity of the matrix and (2) the greater tensile strengths of SWNTs, relative to MWNTs.

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Urethane/Silicone Adhesives for Bonding Flexing Metal Parts

These adhesives make strong, flexible bonds. Adhesives that are blends of commercially available urethane and silicone adhesives have been found to be useful for bonding metal parts that flex somewhat during use. These urethane/silicone adhesives are formulated for the specific metal parts to be bonded. The bonds formed by these adhesives have peel and shear strengths greater than those of bonds formed by double-sided tapes and by other adhesives, including epoxies and neat silicones. In addition, unlike the bonds formed by epoxies, the bonds formed by these adhesives retain flexibility.

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Fibrous-Ceramic/Aerogel Composite Insulating Tiles

The best features of aerogels and fibrous ceramics are exploited. Fibrous-ceramic/aerogel composite tiles have been invented to afford combinations of thermal-insulation and mechanical properties superior to those attainable by making tiles of fibrous ceramics alone or aerogels alone. These lightweight tiles can be tailored to a variety of applications that range from insulating cryogenic tanks to protecting spacecraft against reentry heating.

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Aluminum-Alloy-Matrix/Alumina-Reinforcement Composites

Relatively inexpensive, lightweight composite parts could be substitutes for some superalloy parts. Isotropic composites of aluminumalloy matrices reinforced with particulate alumina have been developed as lightweight, high-specific-strength, essexpensive alternatives to nickel-base and ferrous superalloys. These composites feature a specific gravity of about 3.45 g/cm3 and specific strengths of about 200 MPa/(g/cm3). The room-temperature tensile strength is 100 ksi (689 MPa) and stiffness is 30 Msi (206 GPa). At 500 °F (260 °C), these composites have shown 80 percent retention in strength and 95 percent retention in stiffness. These materials also have excellent fatigue tolerance and tribological properties. They can be fabricated in net (or nearly net) sizes and shapes to make housings, pistons, valves, and ducts in turbomachinery, and to make structural components of such diverse systems as diesel engines, automotive brake systems, and power-generation, mining, and oil-drilling equipment. Separately,incorporation of these metal matrix composites within aluminum gravity castings for localized reinforcement has been demonstrated.

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Curing Composite Materials Using Lower-Energy Electron Beams

Less shielding is needed at lower beam energies. In an improved method of fabricating composite-material structures by laying up prepreg tapes (tapes of fiber reinforcement impregnated by uncured matrix materials) and then curing them, one cures the layups by use of beams of electrons having kinetic energies in the range of 200 to 300 keV. In contrast, in a prior method, one used electron beams characterized by kinetic energies up to 20 MeV. The improved method was first suggested by an Italian group in 1993, but had not been demonstrated until recently.

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Safer Electrolytes for Lithium-Ion Cells

A number of nonvolatile, low-flammability liquid oligomers and polymers based on aliphatic organic carbonate molecular structures have been found to be suitable to be blended with ethylene carbonate to make electrolytes for lithium-ion electro- chemical cells. Heretofore, such electrolytes have often been made by blending ethylene carbonate with volatile, flammable organic carbonates. The present nonvolatile electrolytes have been found to have adequate conductivity (about 2 mS/cm) for lithium ions and to remain liquid at temperatures down to —5 °C. At normal charge and discharge rates, lithiumion cells containing these nonvolatile electrolytes but otherwise of standard design have been found to operate at current and energy densities comparable to those of cells now in common use. They do not perform well at high charge and discharge rates — an effect probably attributable to electrolyte viscosity. Cells containing the nonvolatile electrolytes have also been found to be, variously, nonflammable or at least self-extinguishing. Hence, there appears to be a basis for the development of safer high-performance lithium-ion cells.

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