NASA’s Langley Research Center has developed carbon fiber reinforced composites with self-healing properties. The initiation and propagation of damage to carbon composites, such as in aircraft structural components, results in component failure. Typical structural repairs result in damaging practices, where material is ground away and holes are drilled to secure patches, which can act as new sites for damage. This technology exhibits effective self-repair that heals quickly following low- to mid-velocity impacts, while retaining structural integrity.
Using composite precursor materials developed at Langley, a fabrication process cycle was created to fabricate composite laminates. The precursor material is a pre-impregnated, unidirectional, carbon fiber preform, or prepreg. In the pre-pregging process, the high-strength, structural reinforcing carbon fiber is wetted by a solution containing a self-healing polymer. The resulting material is of aerospace quality and exhibits significantly less internal damage following impact tests (using ASTM D 7137 standard).
This technology extends the life of typical carbon fiber components. The self-healing properties do not require microcapsules, which can act as defect initiators. Potential applications include use in aircraft, rotorcraft, spacecraft, and missiles.