A document proposes that future spacecraft for planetary and space exploration be designed to enable reuse of drained propellant tanks for occupancy by humans. This proposal would enable utilization of volume and mass that would otherwise be unavailable and, in some cases, discarded. Such utilization could enable reductions in cost, initial launch mass, and number of launches needed to build up a habitable outpost in orbit about, or on the surface of, a planet or moon. According to the proposal, the large propellant tanks of a spacecraft would be configured to enable crews to gain access to their interiors.

The spacecraft would incorporate hatchways, between a tank and the crew volume, that would remain sealed while the tank contained propellant and could be opened after the tank was purged by venting to outer space and then refilled with air. The interior of the tank would be pre-fitted with some habitation fixtures that were compatible with the propellant environment. Electrical feed-throughs, used originally for gauging propellants, could be reused to supply electric power to equipment installed in the newly occupied space. After a small amount of work, the tank would be ready for long-term use as a habitation module.

This work was done by Andrew S. W. Thomas of Johnson Space Center.MSC-24236-1

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the July, 2009 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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