Tensile and Compressive Mechanical Behavior of IM7/PETI-5 at Cryogenic Temperatures


TR Number



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Virginia Tech


In order for future space transportation vehicles to be considered economically viable, the extensive use of lightweight materials is critical. For spacecraft with liquid fueled rocket engines, one area identified as a potential source for significant weight reduction is the replacement of traditional metallic cryogenic fuel tanks with newer designs based on polymer matrix composites. For long-term applications such as those dictated by manned, reusable launch vehicles, an efficient cryo-tank design must ensure a safe and reliable operating environment. To execute this design, extensive experimental data must be collected on the lifetime durability of PMC's subjected to realistic thermal and mechanical environments. However, since polymer matrix composites (PMC's) have seen limited use as structural materials in the extreme environment of cryogenic tanks, the available literature provides few sources of experimental data on the strength, stiffness, and durability of PMC's operating at cryogenic temperatures.

It is recognized that a broad spectrum of factors influence the mechanical properties of PMC's including material selection, composite fabrication and handling, aging or preconditioning, specimen preparation, laminate ply lay-up, and test procedures. It is the intent of this thesis to investigate and report performance of PMC's in cryogenic environments by providing analysis of results from experimental data developed from a series of thermal/mechanical tests. The selected test conditions represented a range of exposure times, loads and temperatures similar to those experienced during the lifetime of a cryogenic, hydrogen fuel tank. Fundamental, lamina-level material properties along with properties of typical design laminates were measured, analyzed, and correlated against test environments. Material stiffness, strength, and damage, will be given as a function of both cryogenic test temperatures and pre-test cryogenic aging conditions.

This study focused on test temperature, preconditioning methods, and laminate configuration as the primary test variables. The material used in the study, (IM7/PETI-5), is an advanced carbon fiber, thermoplastic polyimide composite.



residual properties, polymer matrix composites, cryogenic, mechanical properties, Aging