NASA recently completed a major space technology development milestone by successfully testing a pressurized, large cryogenic propellant tank made of composite materials. The composite tank will find its way into next-gen lightweight rockets and spacecraft needed for space exploration.
The successful tests announced today put NASA one step closer to lightweight composites that could lower the weight of future rocket tanks by 30 percent and their cost by 25 percent. Lighter tanks would mean less thrust and fuel needed for liftoff.
The 18-foot-diameter tank built by Boeing was flown to the Marshall Space Flight Center earlier this year aboard NASA’s Super Guppy and then placed in a special test stand. Engineers filled the tank with liquid hydrogen and applied pressure to simulate launch conditions.
In other tests, the tank successfully maintained fuels at extremely low temperatures and operated at various pressures. Engineers filled the tank with almost 30,000 gallons of liquid hydrogen chilled to -423 degrees Fahrenheit, and repeatedly cycled the pressure between 20 to 53 pounds per square inch – the pressure limit set for the tests.
“Never before has a tank of this size been proven to sustain the thermal environment of liquid hydrogen at these pressures,” Dan Rivera, Boeing program manager for the cryotank project, said in a NASA statement. “Our design is also more structurally efficient then predecessors. This is a significant technology achievement for NASA, Boeing and industry.”
These successful tests mark an important milestone on the path to demonstrating the composite cryogenic tanks needed to accomplish our next generation of deep space missions,” said Michael Gazarik, NASA’s associate administrator for space technology at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “This investment in game changing space technology will help enable NASA’s exploration of deep space while directly benefiting American industrial capability in the manufacturing and use of composites.”