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Cryogenic fuel tank prototype paves the way for the launch of lighter micro-satellites

04 January 2024
This full-scale prototype is a fuel storage tank for a sub-orbital space vehicle, and is proof of Portugal's growing capacity to assert itself in the space sector.

It was developed by a team of experts at INEGI, and is capable of storing cryogenic propellants, such as oxygen and liquid methane, while being lighter than metallic tanks.

Produced entirely from composite materials through a process called Automated Fiber Placement (AFP), it has low permeability and is capable of withstanding cryogenic temperatures. It has a capacity of 800 L and weighs just 31 kg. Rodrigo Pinto Carvalho, responsible for the project at INEGI, explains that "the low weight of the tank contributes to reducing the total mass of the vehicle, and this allows for greater operating efficiency."

The tank was built to integrate VIRIATO, a sub-orbital vehicle that is being created on the initiative of a Portuguese consortium, which aims to validate and test fundamental technologies for the future development of a microsatellite launcher, to operate from the future space port. of Santa Maria, in the Azores.

"The capacity that INEGI's team has developed in producing tanks in composite material - being the only entity in Portugal to explore this technology - represents an important opportunity to affirm the Portuguese space sector in the European context", highlights Rodrigo Pinto Carvalho. "It is an important advance in the launcher market. The number of micro-satellites in operation has grown extraordinary, being one of the major vectors of space development in the coming years."

The VIRIATO project: Innovative Reusable Vehicle for Research and Leveraging Orbital Technology is co-financed by the European Union through the COMPETE 2020 program. The project is led by the Portuguese company Omnidea, and also has as partners Tekever Space, Spin.Works, Edisoft, Optimal, +Atlântico, CEiiA, ISQ, the University of Porto and the University of Évora.

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