A European Space Agency (ESA) initiative has resulted in a new flax plant fiber composite that offers to make space satellites and F1 racing safer.
Swiss companies Bcomp and RUAG are both working on substituting this natural-fiber composite for carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) in satellite, automotive, aerospace and maritime manufacturing.
According to ESA structural engineer Tiziana Cardone, threading fibers from the flax plant through satellite panel material could help space missions burn up more rapidly during atmospheric reentry – making their disposal safer for people and property on the ground.
Cardone also asserts that their detailed ‘Life Cycle Analysis’ has shown that the flax fiber panel cuts CO2 emissions by 75% compared to matching carbon fiber parts.
“We found that they have exceptionally low thermal expansion – which is good in terms of the temperature extremes of orbital space – as well as high specific stiffness, and strength which can be retained right down to cryogenic temperatures,” says ESA’s Ugo Lafont.
“They are also able to damp down vibration well, can endure ultraviolet radiation exposure and impede radio signals much less than carbon fibers.”
As part of their research, the ESA-led team took Bcomp’s patented thin-shell ‘powerRib’ natural-fiber composites as their starting point.
These composites were specifically used to make a test version of a lateral structural panel for the Copernicus Sentinel-1 satellite.
Bcomp’s natural fiber composite has also found a customer in Sweden’s Volta Trucks which is using the material for weight-saving and more eco-friendly body panels.
McLaren Racing meanwhile has collaborated with Bcomp to manufacture Formula 1’s first natural fiber composite racing seat.
Possessing improved vibration-damping properties to a traditional CFRP seat, the new material also offers wider safety possibilities as carbon fibers are notorious for splintering during accidents, puncturing wheels and causing debilitating injuries.
Image and content: Bcomp/ESA