Application of Composite Materials to Reduce Mass of Internal and External Exploration Habitat Structures
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Habitats for human exploration missions to the Moon and Mars (including rovers and surface ascent cabins) are often massive elements, which must be pushed through many propulsive burns. Small increases in habitat mass can translate into large mass changes in launch vehicle and propulsion stage masses, which often drive the affordability and complexity of missions. Targeted investments in technologies that substantially reduce mass of habitats, such as lightweight, composite structures, are impactful for any human exploration mission. In previous studies, composite structures have been proposed to significantly reduce the mass of habitat primary structures over traditional aluminum structures. However, these designs faced challenges including certification, damage tolerance, inherited requirements, a lack of early consideration of required joints, and challenges manufacturing large-scale sealed structures. There is an opportunity to achieve substantial mass savings by implementing multiple-composite habitat structures, which apply different, optimal composite materials and structural concepts for each part of the habitat structure (e.g., acreage, discontinuities, secondary structure, interior equipment cases) customized to its unique structural requirements (e.g., strength, loads, and damage tolerance). This paper describes the current progress of a study into composite habitat structures to identify those beneficial composite materials and layups that enable substantial mass savings (target of >20%) at similar cost and risk of existing metallic structures. Composite material systems and structural concepts are assessed for their desirable structural properties, ease of manufacture, technical maturity, cost, and ability to join efficiently with other composite and metallic structures using a representative Mars Transit Habitat. The differences and implications for a lunar ascent module application are briefly discussed.