Lamborghini's carbon fiber to be put to the test in outer space
If a material is going to be used for implants or prostheses, it had better be tough. The carbon fiber composites produced by Italian automaker Lamborghini may be up to the task, so samples will soon be on their way to the International Space Station – to have their mettle tested in the harsh conditions of outer space.
It was a couple of years ago that we first heard about a collaboration between Automobili Lamborghini and the Texas-based Houston Methodist Research Institute, in which the former would be providing the latter with its technical expertise in the development of materials for use in biomedical devices. The research might also lead to materials that could be utilized in other applications, such as the building of more resilient spacecraft or lighter, stronger cars.
Now, as part of that effort, it has been announced that no sooner than Nov. 2nd, a Northrop Grumman Antares rocket will be launching from the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, carrying samples of Lamborghini-made materials to the International Space Station (ISS).
Over a six-month period, scientists from the partnering ISS US National Laboratory will conduct a series of experiments on those samples, exposing them to "the extreme stresses induced by the space environment." These stresses will include temperature fluctuations ranging from -40 to 200 ºC (-40 to 392 ºF), the absolute vacuum of outer space, plus exposure to massive doses of radiation (in the form of ultraviolet and gamma rays) and corrosive atomic oxygen.
After the samples are subsequently returned to Earth, Lamborghini and Houston Methodist personnel will compare them to identical samples that were left in a lab, assessing the extent to which their chemical, physical and mechanical properties have degraded.
The tests will be conducted on a total of five small samples, made of different carbon fiber composites. Among these will be a 3D-printed "continuous-fiber" composite, which reportedly combines extreme flexibility with mechanical performance equivalent to that of good-quality aluminum; a discontinuous-fiber composite that was introduced in the automaker's Sesto Elemento limited-run supercar; and a composite made of an autoclaved polymer fabric that's been pre-impregnated with epoxy resin.
"Environmental conditions at low-Earth orbit allow us to evaluate the properties and robustness of the carbon fiber materials under extreme conditions," says Houston Methodist's Dr. Alessandro Grattoni, principal investigator on the study. "This is a unique environment to learn more about their properties and characteristics, in the hope of one day developing technologies and devices that could be used on Earth and in space."