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NASA tests new cryogenic propellant tank

July 3, 2013 at 1:31 PM

WASHINGTON, July 3 (UPI) -- The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration said it has successfully tested a cryogenic propellant tank made of composite materials instead of metal.

NASA described test results as "game changing" because the use of composite-material tanks will lead to less cost and less weight for future space launch vehicles.

"These successful tests mark an important milestone on the path to demonstrating the composite cryogenic tanks needed to accomplish our next generation of deep space missions," said Michael Gazarik, NASA's associate administrator for space technology at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "This investment in game changing space technology will help enable NASA's exploration of deep space while directly benefiting American industrial capability in the manufacturing and use of composites."

NASA said the composite tank -- 8 feet in diameter -- was tested at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. Cryogenic tanks are used to hold the pressurized propellants -- liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen -- used to give large rockets and the space shuttle thrust. It was built by Boeing Co.

Boeing and NASA are now in the process of building a much larger tank for testing.

"The tank manufacturing process represents a number of industry breakthroughs, including automated fiber placement of oven-cured materials, fiber placement of an all-composite tank wall design that is leak-tight and a tooling approach that eliminates heavy-joints," said Dan Rivera, the Boeing cryogenic tank program manager at the space center.

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