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Chapter 9

Applications of Carbon-Carbon

Louis Rubin*
The Aerospace Corporation

El Segundo, California

Approximately 30 years ago, carbon-carbon (CC) was developed to meet the anticipated needs of the emerging space programs for materials that were resistant to high temperatures and were able to maintain structural integrity while experiencing the thermal stresses of reentry from space. The utility of this material was first demonstrated in a major Space Shuttle application where it performed on the wing leading edge and nose cap thermal protection system. Carbon-carbon technology has matured considerably since the first Space Shuttle application. Although more advanced versions continue to perform well on the Space Shuttle, CC has evolved as a versatile material for a wide variety of new applications.

The key to many of the new uses of CC is in the development of improved oxidation-resistant systems for atmospheric use at high temperatures, of new high-modulus carbon fibers that provide dimensional rigidity and low thermal expansion for structural applications, and of newer matrices based on pitch or advanced high-char yielding resins that result in greater composite integrity and reduced processing time. The newest approach to rapid matrix processing is related to chemical vapor infiltration (CVI), but it is based on a liquid hydrocarbon precursor that is used instead of a gas (ref. 1).

One of the more visible applications of CC is on the wing leading edge and nose cap of the Space Shuttle orbiter (refs. 2 and 3). These components, which LTV Corporation manufactured, are exposed to temperatures up to 2800°F (1538°C) during orbiter entry into the atmosphere; in addition, they must provide thermal protection and maintain structural integrity over multiple missions. Each orbiter wing contains 22 leadingedge CC airfoil panels and 22 sealing strips of CC. The nose cap is 45 ft in diameter and consists of the primary cap and eight circumferential seal

* Currently with Research Opportunities, Inc., Torrance, California.

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