Boeing is about to begin environmental tests on a new composite fuel tank for rockets.

Please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar to the right or below. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.

The competition heats up: Boeing is about to begin environmental tests on a new composite fuel tank for rockets.

Tanks made of composite materials have been a dream of space engineers for decades. Lockheed Martin tried to build them for the X-33, and their failure was essentially what killed that spacecraft. If Boeing is successful here and the composite tanks can then be put into a variety of launch rockets, the savings in weight will lower the cost of getting payloads to orbit significantly.



  • I have the privilege to work at Boeing Tukwila and witness some composite work underway there. Proud to have contributed to these efforts. Let’s hope these efforts bear fruit!

  • More thoughts

    I would hope the state-of-the-art on composite structures would dramatically improve, especially since the Dreamliner has significant composite structures.

    LM had a rather challenging task since the LH2 tank for the X-33 had multiple lobes, which only increased the complexity. Turns out the Al-Li equivalent tank did work and was lighter than the composite version.

  • Kelly Starks

    There have been composite fuel tanks before, and there’s no reason I can think of to think they would have a impact on cost?

    Agree about the X-33’s multiple lobe tank design made it unsuitable for composites, and it would require a huge autoclave for the better composite materials. Given NASA (and the market) has assured them there was no interest in production vehicles of that type, they were not interested in eating the cost for a big autoclave, for composite tanks that would just add weight compared to the Al-Li equivalent tank. The cheaper composite didn’t work, and NASA used it as a excuse to kill the program and argue the prohram proved SSTO’s and RLV’s were technically impossible.


  • S Cooper

    The X-33 like too many programs was never intended to build a ship. It’s purpose was to provide a nifty painting of a ship that the politicians could brag about and get camera time, and then cut the budget when the cameras had moved on. They didn’t really need engineers, all they needed was an art department. I don’t know if it is a result of budget cuts or the artists are bored and just mailing it in but I was disappointed by the art for the SLS. All they did was cut and paste a pair of Shuttle SRBs onto a Saturn 5.

  • I think the reason you (and the artists) were bored with the SLS artwork is that we all know it is a complete lie, that these images are not of what will be but of what will never happen.

  • In the late ’90’s I worked for an engineering company that did work at various Boeing plants in the Seattle area. I’d sometimes find myself watching the manufacturing processes rather than doing my work. Fascinating stuff.

  • Kelly Starks

    > The X-33 like too many programs was never intended to build a ship. …..

    Worse then that. Oh NASA was Ok if it resulted in a little X-craft, but went nuts when L/M offered to skip their fees and just go ahead and develop a fully functional production prototype VentureStar shuttle. CATS is a near death sentence for NASA, and they made it very clear they would NEVER except such a thing or support it.

    As for why Constellation/SLS looks so much like Apollo’s capsule and Sat-V’s in illustrations, is become that’s whats its designed for, to look like Apollo era gear. The high cost and nostalgia (hopefully generating more public enthusiasm and support ) of Apollo was the primary goal. Shuttles routine operation, and potentially low cost abilities, were seen by Griffin as a major threat to voter support for NASA. Constellation/SLS was the solution. Few spectacular launches, far higher costs to distribute among voter blocks, etc.

    The publics reaction to the Apollo like illustrations was a universal yawn. No doubt a shock to Griffin.


  • Kelly Starks

    Come to think of Mars 1 just a pretty picture to scam folks for money? You certainly couldn’t possibly do what they are outlining as their plan, or what is illustrated.

    Oh well, as long as you get good “wallpaper” shots for PC desktops.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *