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The Cost Of Manufacturing Space Hardware
by Staff Writers
Huntsville AL (SPX) Apr 13, 2010

The left dome was created using the new manufacturing processes and eliminates at least seven major welds. A pie-shaped piece has been removed for material testing. Several weld demarcation lines are visible on the traditional fabricated tank dome on the right. (NASA/MSFC/David Higginbotham)

On Tuesday, March 30, NASA and their industry partners unveiled a revolutionary new manufacturing process that could lower the cost of producing a tank dome - the end piece of a fuel tank - as much as 25 percent by using commercial materials and state-of-the-art technologies in an innovative application.

Manufacturing a traditional tank dome requires welding eight curved, pie-shaped pieces of metal together, and a fitting on the top and bottom.

This requires several costly manufacturing and inspection steps to ensure the welds are acceptable for flight. The new application calls for one weld to join two large flat blank panels together, eliminating at least seven major welds, reducing steps and cost.

This is the first time this combination of technologies and alloy has been successfully applied to produce a full-scale 18-foot-diameter, 2195-aluminum-lithium dome that is lighter, has fewer defects and cost less to develop.

The process employs friction stir welding, a solid state joining process; spin forming, a metal working process used to form symmetric parts; and 2195 aluminum lithium, a higher-strength, lower-density alloy, and could be used in the design of launch vehicles, crew vehicles, habitat modules, and other space hardware.

One additional full-scale development tank dome is scheduled for manufacture and testing in the coming months as part of the joint, four-year technology demonstration program.

NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center and Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., partnered with Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver, Colo., and MT Aerospace in Augsburg, Germany, to push the envelope in dome manufacturing by making use of existing commercial materials and cutting edge technology.

This international partnership demonstrates the agency's desire to tap into rich sources of innovation to help address technical challenges that will mutually benefit NASA and next-generation space exploration.


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