The developed "smart" material has several applications within NASA. First, the smart aspects are integrated with a commercially available OOA prepreg material suitable for large, lightweight composite structures. Second, this material is compatible with AFP for cost-effective, rapid manufacture of such large, lightweight structures. Furthermore, the implementation of the smart aspects is done using automated, controlled processes. The microvascular channels for self-healing are fabricated using a FDM print-head that can be interfaced with the AFP machine, while the CNTs are transferred continuously to prepreg slit tape and spooled prior to AFP. This combination of materials and manufacturing processes lends itself attractive for applications within NASA's Space Exploration program such as large pressure vessels, vehicles, and habitat modules. The lifetime and reliability of these structures will be improved as they become larger and lighter weight, and are sent deeper into space for future missions. Clearly, after these structures are launched into space, it is often not practical to service them in the event of any damage. The ability to detect damage and to self-heal will be advantageous in such cases. With the success of this STTR program, Aurora will have positioned itself to compete for future NASA contracts that require the manufacture of large, composite space structures similar to the Orion heavy lift launch vehicle, the SLS, and NASA's COTS vehicle.
As an aerospace company, Aurora designs, develops, and manufactures various primary and secondary composite structures for unmanned and manned, military and commercial aircraft. The structures, over repeated load cycles, will develop cracks that affect performance and require significant downtime and maintenance. Being able to integrate damage detection and self-healing capabilities with these structures will position Aurora to offer innovative new, "smarter" designs for commercial customers, that are more lightweight and damage tolerant. Aurora is already working on an application that detects damage and dynamically adjusts its flight parameters (e.g. lower altitude, different speed, etc.) to maximize performance prior to grounding for repairs. A self-healing system would enable the aircraft to fly for a longer period of time and complete its required mission without unnecessarily grounding the aircraft for maintenance and repairs. Furthermore, Aurora could leverage its relationship with major prepreggers such as Cytec, Hexcel, TenCate, and Toray to license the "smart" material out for subsequent sales to other industries including wind energy, automotive, and construction (e.g. buildings and bridges).