“These structures were highly-tailored in terms of ply orientation and thickness and ply drops for minimum weight,” says Gillespie. “The HUT and brief had complex geometries, so we developed hundreds of custom patterns for mapping the plies onto the geometries and achieving the optimum orientation without inducing wrinkles and other flaws.” Each pattern was made, cut automatically, placed using a laser projection system, then debulked for optimal consolidation of the structures.

Throughout the process, the ATTL conducted numerous tests on materials, sub-elements and test panels, ranging from materials and chemical characterization tests to impact simulations. The HUT, brief and hatch were manufactured using “very traditional aerospace-level processing,” says Gillespie. The hard components were then delivered to ILC, which created the soft armor and assembled the space suit. The Z-2 prototype was delivered to NASA in March 2016.

Gillespie says NASA has begun using the Z-2 in astronaut training programs. It also put out solicitations for Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) projects. Three of CCM’s spin-off companies won bids: Composites Automation, STF Technologies and Maher & Associates.

Gillespie hopes that the Center for Composite Materials will be involved in future work on the Z-series of space suits for Mars, working to improve the toughness, reduce weight and enhance producibility. “Given the finite length of time we had to work on the suit, we hybridized the composite components and met NASA’s requirements,” he says. “But there is room for improvement. With more materials development and studies, there are big opportunities to develop better materials and save even more weight.”

Riding Out the Storm

Project: Weather-predicting UAVs

School: Oklahoma State University

Location: Stillwater, Okla.

Principal Investigator: Jamey Jacob

Last year, more than 970 tornadoes ripped through the United States, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Given that the average lead-time for tornado warnings is only 13 minutes, it’s no surprise that researchers are working on ways to extend the time between advance warnings and tornado strikes. Students at the Oklahoma State University Unmanned Systems Research Institute (USRI) are pinning their hopes on sensor-laden unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) made from composites.

Alyssa Avery, a graduate student in the aerospace engineering program at Oklahoma State University, began designing a weather-sensing UAV three years ago. Her system, called the Mesocyclone Analysis Research & Investigation Aircraft (MARIA), can be loaded with sensors to measure temperature, pressure, wind velocity and other factors. It’s one of several UAVs developed for weather applications under the guidance of Jamey Jacob, professor of aerospace engineering at Oklahoma State University and director of the USRI. The project is part of an effort funded by the National Science Foundation that also involves the University of Nebraska, Oklahoma University and the University of Kentucky.