Space launcher technology has been adapted for potential use in future Airbus single-aisle aircraft, with testing of a composite bulkhead developed for the European Space Agency’s Ariane 5 and Ariane 6 vehicles.
The design modification centres not on the main passenger cabin bulkhead, used to maintain pressurisation, but a secondary aft 2m-diameter bulkhead shielding the auxiliary power unit.
Spanish structural engineering specialist CITD, based in Getafe, has been working on the carbonfibre bulkhead design – which protects satellites from the Ariane 5 launcher stage – in co-operation with ESA and Airbus Defence and Space.
ESA’s technology transfer and patent office, which works to find other outlets and applications for capabilities originally developed for the space agency, is supporting a feasibility study to install a similar bulkhead on single-aisle Airbus jets.
“The original [Ariane] version was a glass-fibre cloth supported by massive aluminium rings and fasteners,” says CITD aerospace director Marta Garcia Cosio. “It was very complicated to manipulate and integrate, so was seen as an opportunity for improvement.”
This led to the use of carbonfibre to produce a component whose waved shape is self-supporting and pressure-resistant. Garcia Cosio says there is an “obvious” potential application to commercial aircraft and an initial demonstrator – manufactured from automotive- rather than aeronautical-grade composites – has been produced for tests.
Airbus describes the concept as “very promising” and says it will be “considered” for next-generation aircraft.