NASA’s Langley Research Center is in the process of setting up an advanced composite research capability, called Integrated Structural Assembly of Advanced Composites (ISAAC). ISAAC is a huge robotic arm that moves and spins to pick up massive heads filled with spools of carbon fibers, then moves in preprogrammed patterns to deposit those fibers onto a 40-foot long bed. It can use epoxy and fibers to build aerospace structures and parts.

Researchers plan to have ISAAC up and running by early 2015 with its first research customer, the Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate’s Advanced Composites Project (ACP). The ACP’s goal is to reduce the time for development, verification and regulatory acceptance of new composite materials and design methods.

NASA’s space projects also plan to use the ISAAC system in their research. The second project planned for the robot is the Composites for Exploration Upper Stage (C-EUS) Project, a partnership between the Space Technology Mission Directorate and Human Exploration Mission Directorate that is led by the Marshall Space Flight Center. The C-EUS Project is a 3-year effort to design, build, test and address flight certification of a large composite shell suitable for the second stage of the Space Launch System.

While transporting the enormous ISAAC to the Hampton, Va. facility was a financial and physical challenge, researchers look forward to the difference it will make in composites research. “We have worked for two years to obtain this precise robotic technology. But we proposed the idea more than six years ago,” says structural mechanics engineer Chauncey Wu. “It will really make a difference in our ability to understand composite materials and processes for use in aviation and space vehicles.”

Read even more about how NASA uses composites for space exploration in our November/December 2014 feature, Composites: The Final Frontier.