Durable Sandwich Structure Joining Technology for NASA's Ares V Launch Vehicle

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Virginia Tech


Joining of uniformly-curved composite sandwich panel segments, typical in state of the art aerospace launch vehicles, should be mass-efficient. Adhesively bonded joints can provide increased mass-efficiency over mechanically-fastened joints. But, due to manufacturing sensitivities and certification requirements, conventional bonded joints can be improved upon by introducing structural redundancy. A longitudinal, durable redundant joint (DRJ) architecture featuring multiple adhesive load-paths, via a novel composite preform insert, was proposed to join composite sandwich panel segments of the interstage element for NASA's Ares V launch vehicle. A series of twenty-five static linear-elastic finite element models with plane strain solutions were developed to assess certain characteristics of a joint's structural response when subjected to a simplified circumferential hoop loading convention.

Shear and normal stress distributions at the adherend-adhesive interface along the splice plate bondline of the DRJ are compared with those from a conventional splice joint (CSJ) configuration for a series of linearly increasing bondlines thicknesses and joint overlap lengths. The parameter studies indicate the DRJ configuration's adhesive peak stresses are independent of the joint overlap length at the joint edges. Also, simulated bonding defects, in the form of local adhesive gaps, due to manufacturing processes are investigated to determine the load path redistribution for the DRJ and CSJ configurations. Results for pristine versions of both configurations are included. The defective CSJ joint exhibits severe overloading of certain laminates, while the defective DRJ load redistributions are relatively mild. Between the two primary types of bondline gaps considered for the DRJ configuration, the gap corresponding to the splice plate, a more mature manufacturing operation and also a more easily inspected location than the insert-to-face sheet interface, is noted to be more severe.

A direct joint-to-joint mass-comparison reveals a 164% increase in mass, per unit thickness, between the CSJ and DRJ. To put this in perspective, a second comparison is made using a four-segment sandwich panel barrel. A 3.51% increase in mass is observed between the CSJ and DRJ-based cylinders. Also, for a simplified sizing philosophy, based solely on the peak stresses in the adhesive domain, a CSJ may require a 1.5-inch longer joint overlap than a DRJ. The mass-estimate is recomputed, and the mass percent-increase of the segmented cylinder is reduced to 2.61% over a CSJ configuration.



Durable, Composite, Redundant Load Path, Adhesive Joint, Finite element method