A hybrid lightweight composite tank has been created using specially designed materials and manufacturing processes. The tank is produced by using a hybrid structure consisting of at least two reinforced composite material systems. The inner composite layer comprises a distinct fiber and resin matrix suitable for cryogenic use that is a braided-sleeve (and/or a filament-wound layer) aramid fiber preform that is placed on a removable mandrel (outfitted with metallic end fittings) and is infused (vacuum-assisted resin transfer molded) with a polyurethane resin matrix with a high ductility at low temperatures. This inner layer is allowed to cure and is encapsulated with a filament-wound outer composite layer of a distinct fiber resin system. Both inner and outer layer are in intimate contact, and can also be cured at the same time. The outer layer is a material that performs well for low temperature pressure vessels, and it can rely on the inner layer to act as a liner to contain the fluids.
The outer layer can be a variety of materials, but the best embodiment may be the use of a continuous tow of carbon fiber (T-1000 carbon, or others), or other high-strength fibers combined with a high ductility epoxy resin matrix, or a polyurethane matrix, which performs well at low temperatures. After curing, the mandrel can be removed from the outer layer.
While the hybrid structure is not limited to two particular materials, a preferred version of the tank has been demonstrated on an actual test tank article cycled at high pressures with liquid nitrogen and liquid hydrogen, and the best version is an inner layer of PBO (poly-p-phenylenebenzobisoxazole) fibers with a polyurethane matrix and an outer layer of T-1000 carbon with a high elongation epoxy matrix suitable for cryogenic temperatures. A polyurethane matrix has also been used for the outer layer. The construction method is ideal because the fiber and resin of the inner layer has a high strain to failure at cryogenic temperatures, and will not crack or produce leaks. The outer layer serves as more of a high-performance structural unit for the inner layer, and can handle external environments.
This work was done by Thomas DeLay of Marshall Space Flight Center.