Boeing cryogenic fuel tank passes tests at Marshall

Use of lighter composite could increase payload masses by up to 30%.

Engineers move the linerless cryogenic fuel tank into position for testing at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville.

Boeing’s linerless cryogenic fuel tank has passed a critical series of tests at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center at the end of 2021. The test proves the new technology is mature, safe and ready for use in aerospace vehicles.

The 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 rocket, which is the foundational capability in NASA’s Artemis lunar and deep space human exploration program. The lighter weight composite technology could increase payload masses by up to 30%.

“Composites are the next major technological advancement for large aerospace cryogenic storage structures,” said Carlos Guzman, lead of Boeing Composite Cryotank Manufacturing. “And while they can be challenging to work with, they offer significant advantages over traditional metallic structures.”

During the testing, 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 was 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 builds on Boeing’s experience with the safe use of hydrogen in aerospace applications and will inform the company’s ongoing studies of hydrogen as a potential future energy pathway for commercial aviation. In addition to use in space programs, Boeing has completed five flight demonstration programs with hydrogen.

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