A joint effort between NASA and Lockheed Martin has resulted in the
development and successful initial testing of the first sub-scale cryogenic
tank built of a composite material that is compatible with liquid oxygen.
Lockheed Martin designed and built the composite tank, and NASA is testing
it at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

The tank has successfully completed the initial cycles of cryogenic, or very
low temperature, proof testing in liquid oxygen. In testing, the tank is
enduring thermal and pressure environments that simulate flight conditions
a liquid oxygen tank would experience on a space launch vehicle. The tank
also will undergo life cycle testing at Marshall Center to demonstrate
mission life capabilities.

“This marks a real advance in space technology,” said Michael Phipps, NASA
project manager for this material characteristics development unit. “No
approved standards for composite pressure vessels exist; there has not been
enough information on them to write standards. So the technical data we
are getting from this effort is very valuable.”

Using state-of-the-art cryogenic composite tank analysis, fabrication,
and inspection techniques, the Lockheed Martin/NASA team designed and
constructed the tank at both the Marshall Center and the NASA Michoud
Assembly Facility in New Orleans. The composite tank is approximately
nine feet (2.7 meters) in length and four feet (1.2 meters) in diameter
and weighs less than 500 pounds (225 kilograms), which represents an 18
percent weight savings over a metal tank of similar construction.

Composites are seen as one of the key components in the drive by NASA and
the aerospace industry to decrease the weight of future launch vehicles
as a means of reducing the cost of launching payloads into orbit from the
current $10,000 per pound to $1,000 per pound.

That is one of the goals of NASA’s Second Generation Reusable Launch
Vehicle (RLV) program, a research and technology development effort that
also aims to substantially improve safety and reliability. The Marshall
Center manages that program for NASA.

NASA at the Marshall Center and at the White Sands Test Facility in New
Mexico has worked together with Lockheed Martin since 1997 to develop
the approach and test methods for demonstrating composite liquid oxygen
tanks. NASA and Lockheed Martin tested the material extensively following
a building-block approach. This approach began with coupon testing,
progressing to panels, then to specific tank type interfaces and joints,
scaling up to small bottles, and finally to this sub-scale tank.

To download a composite liquid oxygen tank picture, go to Lockheed Martin
Space Systems ó Michoud Operations’ Web site at


and click on Image Gallery.

For more information about NASA’s Second Generation RLV program, go to




Engineers at the Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala., prepare a
composite liquid oxygen (LOX) tank for testing. The tank was designed and
built by Lockheed Martin. PHOTO: NASA Marshall Center

Dom Amatore

Media Relations Department

Marshall Space Flight Center

Huntsville, AL

(256) 544-0034


Harry Wadsworth

Media Relations Department

Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company

Michoud Operations

New Orleans, LA

(504) 257-0094