NASA has completed a complex series of tests on one of the largest composite cryogenic fuel tanks ever manufactured, bringing the aerospace industry much closer to designing, building, and flying lightweight, composite tanks on rockets.
“This is one of NASA’s major technology accomplishments for 2014,” said Michael Gazarik, NASA’s associate administrator for Space Technology. “This is the type of technology that can improve competitiveness for the entire U.S. launch industry, not to mention other industries that want to replace heavy metal components with lightweight composites. These tests, and others we have conducted this year on landing technologies for Mars vehicles, show how technology development is the key to driving exploration.”
The demanding series of tests on the 18-foot (5.5-meter) diameter tank were conducted inside a test stand at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Engineers added structural loads to the tank to replicate the physical stresses launch vehicles experience during flight.
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.