Developing Composite Boosters for NASA
In 2002, Griffon Aerospace (Griffon) was Northrop Grumman’s Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) onsite test engineering agent for design, development, production, and testing of the first successful composite liquid hydrogen rocket fuel tank. Building on this successful program, Northrop Grumman set out to mature its design while focusing on increasing its affordability with MSFC. Griffon has played an integral supporting role building composite elements for candidate tanks, with Northrop Grumman demonstrating the feasibility of composite cryogenic tanks to reduce weight and cost to NASA. Northrop Grumman then subcontracted Griffon’s to began working with MSFC to develop cost effective processes for building very large composite tank structures. Northrop Grumman developed the In-situ Manufacturing System (IsMS) that automated the layup of carbon/epoxy tape, curing, machining, and non-destructive inspection. Northrop Gumman used Griffon’s capabilities in rapid prototyping and fabrication to build the first demonstration model of the IsMS. The demonstration was used to prove the concept’s feasibility to Northrop Grumman, NASA, DoD, and commercial customers.
Northrop Grumman contracted Griffon as part of an IRAD effort to fabricate the IsMS 8-ft diameter, 15-ft long cylindrical, highly-accurate composite fiberglass/epoxy mandrel. Griffon began building tank subcomponents by fabricating laminate and sandwich structure coupons per Northrop Grumman’s manufacturing and quality requirements leading to the production of an 8-ft diameter, 10-ft long carbon/honeycomb-stiffened tank shell.The Northrop Grumman/Griffon team’s successful tooling and building development work resulted in the team and Griffon winning NASA’s Composite Tank-Set (CTS) contract.
Griffon is currently providing engineering for the tank design, producing the complete 8-ft diameter , 45-ft long composite tank, fabricating a test tower, and conducting the critical cryogenic tank tests at the Madison, AL facility. Griffon is designing the composite course layout work over the dome, all the composite layup tooling, assembly tooling, and metallic test fixtures. Griffon will lead and execute the manufacturing of the CTS tank test article, which includes aluminum honeycomb core machining, thermal forming, laser pattern projected layup, out-of-autoclave curing, cure of splices/doublers, and installation of fittings, sensors, and access ports. The test will consist of the test article standing vertical in a 50 ft tall test tower, pressurizing the liquid nitrogen and diesel filled tanks, and inducing 1.1 million pounds of force. Release of purchase orders to subcontractors for major elements of the test tower and to key suppliers was accomplished per the program milestones and the SOW. Northrop Grumman has responsibility for the tank’s performance, which will be tested for requirement conformance in the summer 2014.
Griffon and Northrup Grumman have teamed on a number of other significant composite programs for NASA including the Max Launch Abort System, an ejection capsule for the next generation of space craft. Griffon helped design, develop, fabricate and test the 8 wings for the MLAS. The MLAS underwent a successful flight test. This project resulted in Griffon Aerospace being awarded the Northrop Grumman “Small Business of the year”.