Boeing designed and manufactured fully-composite, linerless cryogenic fuel tank passes critical tests

©Boeing’s all-composite cryogenic fuel tank undergoing pressure testing at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center

A new type of large, fully-composite, linerless cryogenic fuel tank, designed and manufactured by Boeing, has passed a critical series of tests at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center at the end of 2021. The successful test campaign proves the new technology is mature, safe and ready for use in aerospace vehicles.

The 4.3-meter (14 foot) diameter composite tank is similar in size to the fuel tanks intended for use in the upper stage of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, which is the foundational capability in NASA’s Artemis lunar and deep space human exploration programme. If the new composite technology were implemented in evolved versions of the SLS’s Exploration Upper Stage, the weight savings technology could increase payload masses by up to 30%.

During the testing, which was funded by DARPA and Boeing, engineers from Boeing and NASA filled the vessel with cryogenic fluid in multiple test cycles, pressurizing the tank to expected operational loads and beyond. In the final test, which intended to push the tank to failure, pressures reached 3.75 times the design requirements without any major structural failure.

Applications for the technology expand past spaceflight. The test which builds upon Boeing’s extensive experience with the safe use of hydrogen in aerospace applications will inform Boeing’s ongoing studies of hydrogen as a potential future energy pathway for commercial aviation. In addition to use in space programmes, Boeing has completed five flight demonstration programmes with hydrogen.

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