For release: Oct. 2, 1996
Ann C. Gaudreaux
Catherine E. Watson
RELEASE NO. 96-165
NASA Tests X-33
Cryogenic Fuel Tank Concepts
Researchers at NASA Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va., are
conducting thermal-mechanical tests toward the development of a
durable, lightweight cryogenic insulation system for possible use
on future reusable launch vehicles (RLV).
The tests are being conducted in NASA Langley's Thermal
Structures lab for Lockheed Martin, winner of NASA's Phase II
contract, to develop the X-33 Flight Demonstrator Vehicle.
The objective of the X-33 is to demonstrate technologies that
will be a trademark of a future reusable launch vehicle. The RLVs
of the future will be single-stage-to-orbit vehicles that are
intended to be cheaper and easier to operate than current space
vehicles for space exploration payloads into the next century.
"These tests will give us the ability to verify, on a small
scale, the operability of various cryogenic insulation systems,"
said NASA Langley's Kevin Rivers, who is conducting the tests for
Lockheed. "We are able to verify that these systems will withstand
combined thermal and mechanical loads in simulated mission of
launch, orbit and reentry."
"We are also able to verify both the manufacturing techniques
and health monitoring techniques," Rivers said, "and we can study
the life cycle of the structure by repeating the tests simulating
the projected number of missions the vehicle will fly."
Cryogenic refers to the production and effects of very low
temperatures. The tests will allow researchers to demonstrate the
viability of new and innovative cryogenic tank concepts at
relatively low costs.
The tests consist of 25 cycles in which a one-foot by two-foot
aluminum alloy panel, covered with cryogenic foam insulation, is
cooled to -296 degrees Fahrenheit with liquid nitrogen. To simulate
the heat of reentry, the panel and outer surface of the insulation
will be heated to above temperatures expected during a reentry.
Fifteen thermal-mechanical tests will follow the 25 thermal
cycles. The panel will be subjected to design loads that will
simulate the launch-to-orbit and a reentry at the same time the
simulated cooling/heating cycles are applied. Data from the results
will be used in analyses for sizing the cryogenic insulation system
on the X-33.
"We hope to give Lockheed Martin the data that will assist in
determining the reusability and thermal-mechanical performance of
the baseline cryogenic insulation system for the X-33," Rivers
said. "One of the greatest challenges we face is finding the right
material to withstand the extremes of temperature that this panel
will have to endure. If results are positive, Lockheed is well on
its way to having the material necessary to insulate fuel tanks for
The testing is scheduled to continue through early October.
Photos, b-roll and interviews are available. Contact Ann
Gaudreaux, Office of Public Affairs, 757-864-8150.
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text-only version of this release