Image: NASA engineers prepare game changing cryotank for testing

April 11, 2014
Credit: NASA/MSFC/Fred Deaton

NASA and Boeing engineers are inspecting and preparing one of the largest composite rocket propellant tanks ever manufactured for testing. The composite cryotank is part of NASA's Game Changing Development Program and Space Technology Mission Directorate, which is innovating, developing, testing and flying hardware for use in NASA's future missions. NASA focused on this technology because composite tanks promise a 30 percent weight reduction and a 25 percent cost savings over the best metal tanks used today. The outer shell of the 18-foot-diameter (5.5-meter) cryotank is the same size as propellant tanks used on today's full-size rockets.

The tank was manufactured at the Boeing Developmental Center in Tukwila, Wash., and like artists, the team demonstrated their passion and commitment by signing their work. The silver signatures of the NASA and Boeing team members are visible on the black dome end of the tank. NASA's Super Guppy delivered the tank in March 2014 to NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., and the Kmag, a 96-wheeled cargo truck, transported the tank to a Marshall Center test area.

The 28,000-gallons (105.992- liter) tank will be insulated and placed in a test stand where it will be loaded with liquid hydrogen cooled to extremely cold, or cryogenic temperatures. The orange ends of the tank are made of metal and will attach to the test stand so that structural loads can be applied similar to those the tank would experience during a rocket launch. This advanced composite cryotank could benefit many of NASA's deep exploration spacecraft including NASA's Space Launch System, the largest most powerful rocket ever built.

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5 / 5 (1) Apr 11, 2014
What ever happened to the composite fuel tanks they couldn't get to work for the X-33/Venture Star program?
5 / 5 (2) Apr 11, 2014
From the Wikipedia entry on the X-33:

"Continued research

After the cancellation in 2001, engineers were able to make a working liquid oxygen tank out of carbon fiber composite.[citation needed]

On September 7, 2004, Northrop Grumman and NASA engineers unveiled a liquid hydrogen tank made of carbon fiber composite material that had demonstrated the ability for repeated fuelings and simulated launch cycles.[7] Northrop Grumman concluded that these successful tests have enabled the development and refinement of new manufacturing processes that will allow the company to build large composite tanks without an autoclave; and design and engineering development of conformal fuel tanks appropriate for use on a single-stage-to-orbit vehicle.[8]"
not rated yet Apr 11, 2014
What ever happened to the composite fuel tanks they couldn't get to work for the X-33/Venture Star program?

Another great question is what happened to the ptototype itself?

From the same wikipedia entry:
Construction of the prototype was some 85% assembled with 96% of the parts and the launch facility 100% complete when the program was canceled by NASA in 2001, after a long series of technical difficulties including flight instability and excess weight.

In particular, the composite liquid hydrogen fuel tank failed during testing in November 1999. The tank was constructed of honeycomb composite walls and internal structures to reduce its weight. A lighter tank was needed for the craft to demonstrate necessary technologies for single-stage-to-orbit operations. A hydrogen fueled SSTO craft's mass fraction requires that the weight of the vehicle without fuel be 10% of the fully fueled weight. This would allow for a vehicle to fly to low earth orbit without the need for the sort of external boosters and fuel tanks used by the Space Shuttle. But, after the composite tank failed on the test stand during fueling and pressure tests, NASA came to the conclusion that the technology of the time was simply not advanced enough for such a design. While the composite tank walls themselves were lighter, the odd hydrogen tank shape resulted in complex joints increasing the total mass of the composite tank to above that of an aluminum-based tank.

NASA had invested $922 million in the project before cancellation and Lockheed Martin a further $357 million. Due to changes in the space launch business—including the challenges faced by companies such as Globalstar, Teledesic, and Iridium and the resulting drop in the number of anticipated commercial satellite launches per year—Lockheed Martin deemed that continuing development of the X-33 privately without government support would not be profitable.

Ugh. It's maddening that with the way NASA and the USA works, all of that work and the 85% assembled prototype is probably now completely worthless, even if we can create the fuel tanks.

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