In most cases, the Super Guppy airplane is its own attraction. The odd-looking cargo carrier operated by NASA out of El Paso, Texas to deliver bulky cargo. On this trip the plane flew from Tukwila, Washington to the Redstone Arsenal Airfield. On board, a 28-thousand gallon, cryogenic fuel tank.
The tank will be tested by Marshall Space Flight Center. If the tests that put the tank under the same stresses as a rocket launch are successful, NASA rocket builders will be ecstatic. "Today there are no composite cryogenic tanks flying. If we can provide that innovation, we can provide 30-percent weight savings at a 25-percent cost saving. For a launch vehicle provider, that's a significant value," says Boeing Program Manager, Dan Rivera.
It took Boeing technicians some 14-months to build the tank out of composite materials. It's lighter than steel, and is built to maintain liquid hydrogen at minus 423-degrees. The tests are called "relevant environment" tests because they simulate a launch. They're conducted at Marshall for a reason. "They have the capability to apply the liquid hydrogen. they also have the capability to store as much hydrogen as we need. It's a very large tank," says Boeing's Rivera.
Marshall has already successfully tested a tank half the size of the one that just arrived. The tank isn't intended to fly on the first editions of the SLS, but later its use would give NASA a real opportunity. "This is an enabler for a deep space mission. It allows us to go on to Jupiter, go to Mars, visit asteroids, go back to the moon, and land more things on the moon. That's what this tank and this technology is really doing for us," says Chris Crumbly, the manager of the Advanced Development Office for the SLS project at Marshall.
The actual testing will take several days.