WASHINGTON — Minneapolis-based Alliant Techsystems (ATK) hopes to win NASA funding in November to build a duplicate of an all-composite crew capsule currently undergoing testing at the U.S. space agency’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.
ATK delivered to Langley in September a full-scale composite crew module based on NASA’s Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle design. Structural testing began in October and aims to validate the strength and viability of the lightweight composite structure.
Steve Summitt, ATK’s Composite Crew Module program manager at ATK Aerospace Structures in Iuka, Miss., said in an Oct. 14 interview that ATK is proposing building a second capsule in response to NASA’s Commercial Crew Development solicitation issued in September. The program, known as CCDev, will award $50 million American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stimulus funding to competitively selected projects that aim to advance the design and development of commercial crew spaceflight capabilities.
“We’re proposing, through Commercial Crew Development, to build a second article to address some of the gaps left by the first article, looking at permeability of the structure and damage tolerance,” Summitt said.
Made entirely of light-weight composite materials, the capsule ATK built on behalf of the NASA Engineering and Safety Center will spend the rest of the year undergoing a testing regimen that includes pressurization and structural load tests.
NASA officials led the project with ATK providing design, analysis, manufacturing and assembly expertise for the project.
Summitt said the composite crew module will be placed under load conditions similar to those observed during launch, on-orbit operations, landing and abort scenarios. The project is expected to help point the way toward the development of lighter weight manned launch vehicles.
Summitt said another project objective was to give NASA hands-on experience in designing and fabricating composite structures, which can reduce launch costs through weight savings of around 30 percent compared to aluminum and other traditional materials. In addition, Summitt said that composite materials lend themselves to “manufacturability,” making them cheaper to produce than traditional metal parts on an assembly line.
“It’s one piece of hardware, so there is an advantage,” he said. “Your per-unit production costs will go down versus the assembly of a metal component.”