A composite crew module (CCM) developed by Nasa has successfully passed tests demonstrating it to be a feasible alternative to the existing metal capsules used for manned space missions.

The CCM is an all-composite representation of the part-metal, part-composite flight crew module Orion, which is part of Nasa’s Constellation programme for manned missions to the moon and Mars.

Composite materials are tough and lightweight, similar to those used for race cars and business jets, and can be formed into complex and more structurally efficient shapes useful for future-generation spacecraft.

During the test regime, the CCM was pressurised and critical interfaces such as the landing system main parachute fitting were pulled to simulate the combined loads faced by a crew module during launch and return to Earth.

The module was subjected to measured impacts in multiple locations to simulate the damage that might take place in the life of the structure, such as those caused by tool drops and routine handling damage.

CCM project manager Mike Kirsch said the test article withstood twice the design internal pressures with known damage and was then subjected to cyclic testing to four times the design life with no detrimental damage growth.

The project is a joint effort by Nasa and industry partners including Alliant Techsystems (ATK), Collier Corporation, Janicki Industries, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman.