Hexcel Advanced Composites, Essential for Space

As part of National Composites Week, Hexcel highlights the essential role advanced composites have earned within the Space industry.

Supporting space travel and exploration with composite materials has been woven into the fabric of Hexcel since 1962 when astronaut John Glenn -- strapped in the Friendship VII capsule -- returned to Earth, safely protected by Hexcel materials from extreme re-entry heat and possible impact injury. Seven years later in 1969, the landing pads on the lunar module that carried the first men to the moon were built from Hexcel honeycomb materials and were, in fact, the first to touch the moon even before Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon’s surface.

Hexcel Honeycomb is integral for weight savings and high performance in space applications. Hexcel has a variety of honeycomb, including perforated/vented Hexagonal and Flex-Core options that can reduce cost while saving weight in simple and complex structures. You will find Hexcel honeycomb in many space applications from rocket payload fairings and the inner stage to satellite solar arrays, bus structures, and antennas.

Today, Hexcel’s range of epoxy and cyanate ester matrix systems meets the strict requirements of space launchers by withstanding extreme temperature fluctuations and by providing significant weight savings. Its HexPly® M18 prepreg is used widely in Europe for satellites because it doesn’t warp, expand, or contract in the harsh conditions of space. It also has a high resistance to radiation, which could potentially interfere with internal electrical systems if they are not adequately protected. All of this enables satellite functions, such as communications, GPS location, and vital research in space and on Earth, to be carried out effectively.

HexAM® additive manufacturing is also widely used in space applications. It includes HexPEKK®, which is a composite material comprised of 3D printed carbon fiber and PEKK plastics. HexPEKK® is as strong as aluminum yet 60% lighter, and it has impressive outgassing properties that are crucial to prevent condensation build-up within components such as camera lenses.

HexTow® carbon fibers are critical materials that support a wide range of space booster and satellite applications. IM7 and PV42/850 are used extensively in the rocket motor cases that propel payloads into space. High modulus carbon fiber, HM63, is used in satellite structures, providing stiffness and dimensional stability. HexTow® 85 is a new product and is a PAN-based carbon fiber alternative to rayon-based carbon fiber for C/C and ablative applications.

All Hexcel materials are developed to reduce the weight of the spacecraft while protecting them from impact damage, extreme temperatures, and the vacuum of space. Without these materials and their unmatched abilities, many of the space programs active today would not be possible. 

Our unrivaled range of products for space applications include: