A subset of carbon fiber technology, known as carbon-carbon, was originally developed for use in the nosecones of intercontinental ballistic missiles and is now used in the nosecone and along the leading edges of the space shuttle. For the last 30 years it has also been the material of choice for F1 disc brake systems. A typical F1 car can decelerate from 200 mph to 50 mph in about 3 seconds. That much friction generates tremendous heat, which can rapidly degrade the performance of conventional steel or cast iron discs. Carboncarbon brakes, on the other hand, can withstand temperatures as high as 3000°F with no degradation in performance. They are also considerably lighter than steel or cast iron brakes and possess superior frictional and anti-warping characteristics.

Another potential application for carbon- carbon technology might be engine components such as high-performance pistons and connecting rods. Scientists at Langley Research Center successfully developed and patented a number of concepts related to carbon-carbon pistons that NASA has licensed to a company familiar with the technology for potential commercialization.

It’s hard to predict what other spaceage technology might one day find its way into auto racing, but you can be sure of one thing — if it improves vehicle performance or driver safety, it will be adopted with speed.

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