Collier Research Corp.
Newport News, VA
HyperSizer.com

When the Stratolaunch aircraft rolled out of the Mojave, CA Air and Space Port hangar this spring in preparation for ground testing, it was a clear example of how far the design and manufacturing of composite materials has progressed. In September, the first phase of engine testing on the aircraft’s six Pratt & Whitney turbofan engines was completed.

Early construction phase of one of the two fuselages of the all-composite Stratolaunch aircraft, and (inset) a screenshot showing a HyperSizer analysis of the structure. (Stratolaunch Systems Corp.)

The world’s largest aircraft by wingspan (wider than a football field is long) is almost entirely fabricated from composite materials, which provide light weight, high stiffness, and strength characteristics. The Stratolaunch aircraft is the brainchild of Stratolaunch Systems Corporation founder Paul G. Allen. It has two fuselages connected by a giant single wing, and is powered by six engines that will enable it to take off from a runway carrying a payload of up to 550,000 pounds. At the cruising altitude of a commercial airliner, the Stratolaunch air-launch platform will release the space launch vehicle payload and return to the airport for reuse. The first launch demonstration is anticipated to take place as early as 2019.

Collier Research’s HyperSizer optimization software was used by manufacturer Scaled Composites to optimize the aircraft’s composite fuselage and wing structure. HyperSizer, the first software package to be commercialized out of NASA, has been employed on a variety of aerospace and other industry projects fabricated with composite or metallic materials. The software automatically performs design, stress analysis, and sizing optimization, typically reducing the weight of structures by 20-40%.

For the massive Stratolaunch wing, deflection limits were a significant factor to be taken into account. The panels of the dual fuselages were sized for strength, stability, and honeycomb sandwich failure modes. Using HyperSizer, the stress team had access to automated failure analyses that include rapid free-body analysis; discrete laminate sizing; ply-based composite failure analysis; honeycomb sandwich analysis methods such as wrinkling, core shear, flatwise tension, and intracell dimpling; and scripting API to push in loads from Excel spreadsheets.

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