In this paper we describe an experimental method for investigating the autoclave co-cure of honeycomb core composite sandwich structures. The design and capabilities of a custom-built, lab-scale “in-situ co-cure fixture” are presented, including procedures and representative results for three types of experiments. The first type of experiment involves measuring changes in gas pressure on either side of a prepreg laminate to determine the prepreg air permeability. The second type involves co-curing composite samples using regulated, constant pressures, to study material behaviors in controlled conditions. For the final type, “realistic” co-cure, samples are processed in conditions mimicking autoclave cure, where the gas pressure in the honeycomb core evolves naturally due to the competing effects of air evacuation and moisture desorption from the core cell walls. The in-situ co-cure fixture contains temperature and pressure sensors, and derives its name from a glass window that enables direct in-situ visual observation of the skin/core bond-line during processing, shedding light on physical phenomena that are not observable in a traditional manufacturing setting. The experiments presented here are a first step within a larger research effort, whose long-term goal is to develop a physics-based process model for autoclave co-cure.

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