The Orion crew module highlighting the compression pads in the heat shield.

NASA has developed a unique and robust multifunctional material called 3-Dimensional Multifunctional Ablative (3DMAT) Thermal Protection System (TPS) that meets both the structural and thermal performance needs for a lunar return mission and beyond. 3DMAT uses a game-changing woven technology tailored to the needs of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) compression pad. Compression pads serve as the interface between the crew module and service module of the Orion MPCV. The compression pads must carry the structural loads generated during launch, space operations, and pyroshock separation of the two modules. They must also serve as an ablative TPS withstanding the high heating of Earth re-entry. 3DMAT leverages NASA’s investment in woven TPS to design, manufacture, test, and demonstrate a prototype material for the Orion compression pads that combines the weaving of quartz yarns with resin transfer molding.

The initial compression pad design for Orion was complex and limited to Earth orbit return missions, such as the 2014 Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1). The 2D carbon phenolic material used for EFT-1 has relatively low interlaminar strength, and requires a metallic sheer insert to handle structural loads. There are few options for materials that can meet the load demands of lunar return missions due to performance or part-size limitations. The 3DMAT material is a woven fiber preform fully densified with cyanate ester resin. It produces a large composite with significant structural capabilities and the ability to withstand high aerothermal heating environments on its outer surface while keeping the inner surface cool and protected from the aerothermal heating. The robustness of the 3DMAT material is derived from high fiber volume (>56%), 3D orthogonal architecture, and low porosity (0.5%). Orion has adopted 3DMAT for all future MPCV missions, including EM-1 scheduled to launch in 2018.

This work was done by Jay Feldman of Engineering Research and Consulting Inc., Curt Wilkinson of Bally Ribbon Mills, and Kenneth Mercer of San Diego Composites Inc. for Ames Research Center. NASA is seeking partners to further develop this technology through joint cooperative research and development. For more information about this technology and to explore opportunities, please contact David Morse at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 650-604-4724. ARC-17602-1


NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the June, 2016 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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