This Is the Huge Fuel Tank NASA Will Use to Reach the Depths of Space

NASA/Michoud/Steven Seipel
NASA/Michoud/Steven Seipel

Don’t even ask how much this fuel tank will cost to fill. The giant cylinder is just one of the two tanks that will hold the fuel used to power NASA’s new Space Launch System when it blasts off to take missions to Mars and deep space.

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NASA engineers completed the final welding of the liquid oxygen tank this month. The huge component measures 200 feet tall and 27.6 feet wide. It will store oxygen, while another tank will hold liquid hydrogen—together, they will feed the vehicle’s powerful RS-25 engines.

These wide-angle images, shot through a 16 mm fish-eye lens, let you see an awful lot of the Vertical Assembly Center at Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans where the tanks are built. Construction involved a 170-foot-tall, 78-foot-wide state-of-the-art welding toolkit—that’s the big blue structure below.

NASA/Michoud/Steven Seipel
NASA/Michoud/Steven Seipel
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NASA/Michoud/Steven Seipel
NASA/Michoud/Steven Seipel
NASA/Michoud/Steven Seipel
NASA/Michoud/Steven Seipel
NASA/Michoud/Steven Seipel
NASA/Michoud/Steven Seipel
NASA/Michoud/Steven Seipel
NASA/Michoud/Steven Seipel
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[Marshall Space Flight Center/NASA]

image curator, photo editor, photographer // budapest, hungary

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DISCUSSION

Pictured: Building 110, Vertical Assembly Building (1) (yes, there’s another VAB on site at Michoud Assembly Facility), Front Left Cell A where, I think, the LH2 (liquid Hydrogen) tank will be mated to the Intertank, which is the component that interconnects the LH2 tank with the LO2 tank. Back Left, former location of cells B and C, now the Vertical Weld Tool. In the picture, the L02 tank is in the tool. The LH2 tank consists of 5 Barrel Sections to the L02 tank’s 2.

Right side: Stuff that won’t be used in this program, I think.

Background: bldg 114, also known as the high bay. I’m not sure if those cells are used in the SLS program.

Large acreage foam sprays used to be conducted in these two buildings during the shuttle program, but due to the length of the SLS components they will not readily accommodate those components. I’m not in the production side of things, but I think that the primer and foam application steps will be conducted in bldg 131, which was lengthened by 50 feet to accomodate SLS. Before priming and foam happens, both tanks have to be pressure tested, which, for the LO2 tank, entails filling the thing up with water, and the LH2 tank gets filled with Gaseous Nitrogen (GN2).