A liquid crystal polymer fiber that has landed on planet Mars is now being used closer to earth for its high performance in another type of MARS application – the Magenn Air Rotor System.
Kuraray America Inc.'s (New York, N.Y.) Vectran fiber is being used in a cable tether that is suspending a new type of alternative energy solution – a lighter-than-air tethered wind turbine that rotates about a horizontal axis in response to wind, generating electrical energy.
The fiber’s high strength yet light weight made it ideal for this new rotating aircraft that generates electricity, according to the developers of the unique hybrid tether that combines fiber and metal into one system that can hold up to 20,000 lb/9,071 kg.
“We were looking for a material with high strength that also had to be lightweight so the helium could lift the balloon off the ground,” said Jeramie Lawson with Atkins & Pearce’s new product development team.
“Steel cables would be too heavy,” he said. “We also needed a material with low elongation, even when carrying a large tensile load, and not stretch. We also were faced with the challenge of balancing the elongation of the Vectran fiber and copper.”
Aluminum end fittings were designed by Applied Fiber (Havana, Fla.) to properly connect the Vectran cable segments to the wind turbine. These resin-infused terminations at the ends of the rope allowed the segments to be threaded directly into a splitter box to secure the balloon, said Paul Badeau, vice president of business development of Applied Fiber, a developer of an advanced composite termination technology for synthetic fiber cables that provided the end point terminations.
Vectran fiber also has been used as the fabric in the airbags on NASA’s Mars Spirit and Opportunity Rover missions that enabled the crafts’ soft landings. In addition, it has been used in bridle cables, space suits and inflatable spacecraft.