A type of large, fully composite, linerless cryogenic tank completed a series of tests at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center at the end of 2021.

Designed and manufactured by Boeing, the reusable tank shell was originally constructed as flight hardware for DARPA’s Experimental Spaceplane Program (XSP). The successful test campaign advances the technology toward being mature, safe and ready for use in aerospace vehicles.

The 14' diameter composite tank is similar in size to the propellant 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 program. If the composite technology were implemented in evolved versions of the SLS’s Exploration Upper Stage, the weight savings could increase payload masses by up to 30 percent.

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.