Assemblies of tanks having shapes that conform to each other and/or conform to other proximate objects have been investigated for use in storing fuels and oxidizers in small available spaces in upper stages of spacecraft. Such assemblies might also prove useful in aircraft, automobiles, boats, and other terrestrial vehicles in which space available for tanks is limited.
The basic concept of using conformal tanks to maximize the utilization of limited space is not new in itself: for example, conformal tanks are used in some automobiles to store windshield-washer liquid and coolant that overflows from radiators. The novelty of the present development lies in the concept of an assembly of smaller conformal tanks, as distinguished from a single larger conformal tank. In an assembly of smaller tanks, it would be possible to store different liquids in different tanks. Even if the same liquid were stored in all the tanks, the assembly would offer an advantage by reducing the mechanical disturbance caused by sloshing of fuel in a single larger tank: indeed, the requirement to reduce sloshing is critical in some applications.
The figure shows a prototype assembly of conformal tanks. Each tank was fabricated by (1) copper plating a wax tank mandrel to form a liner and (2) wrapping and curing layers of graphite/epoxy composite to form a shell supporting the liner. In this case, the conformal tank surfaces are flat ones where they come in contact with the adjacent tanks. A band of fibers around the outside binds the tanks together tightly in the assembly, which has a quasi-toroidal shape. For proper functioning, it would be necessary to maintain equal pressure in all the tanks.
This work was done by Tom DeLay of Marshall Space Flight Center.