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NASA and Boeing collaborate to create a huge cryogenic fuel tank. The 18-foot-diameter (5.5 meter) composite tank just completed final assembly at the Boeing Developmental Center in Tukwila, Wash.
For more than 50 years, metal tanks have carried fuel to launch rockets and propel them into space, but one of the largest composite tanks ever manufactured may change all that. This spring, that tank-known as the composite cryotank-is set to undergo a series of tests at extreme pressures and temperatures similar to those experienced during spaceflight.The 18-foot-diameter (5.5 meter) composite tank just completed final assembly at the Boeing Developmental Center in Tukwila, Wash. Soon it will be loaded onto NASA's Super Guppy, a large, wide-bodied cargo aircraft, that will carry it on a two-day journey to NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., where it will be filled with extremely cold, or cryogenic, hydrogen propellant and undergo a series of tests throughout the summer.
A team of engineers from Boeing and NASA designed and manufactured the tank. NASA experts learned from prior tank designs and testing and helped devise ways to combat imperfections such as microscopic leaks, found in previous composite tanks. The team leveraged Boeing's experience producing composites for aircraft to use a unique fiber-placement technique and new materials that did not require expensive curing processes in autoclaves, procedures traditionally associated with composite production.When the tank arrives at the Marshall Center, it will move to a clean room and be prepared for testing at a recently refurbished test stand. Here, the tank will come to life as it is filled with liquid hydrogen, cooled and pressurized. As it undergoes this endurance testing, NASA and Boeing engineers will monitor data to see how it performs compared to metal tanks and the smaller 8-foot-diameter (2.4-meter) tank tested at Marshall last summer. Engineers will monitor testing from a new centralized control room, which is shared by several test facilities and has updated video, data acquisition and communications systems.More information: www.nasa.gov