National Manufacturing Institute Scotland

Case Studies

Spacecraft R&D project with TWI, Airbus and NMIS lifts off  


A team from the University of Strathclyde's Advanced Forming Research Centre (AFRC) collaborated with The Welding Institute (TWI) Ltd. and Airbus Defence and Space to explore alternative methods of manufacture for titanium and aluminium propellant tanks that could save materials and costs.

Customer challenge

Spacecraft and satellite propellant tanks are pressure vessels that store liquid fuels. Airbus Defence and Space currently manufacture the product through forging and machining titanium, resulting in material waste and high production costs. It is interested in determining if aluminium could offer similar performance to titanium at a lower cost.

What did the AFRC do?

Funded by the European Space Agency (ESA) through ESA's General Support Technology Program (GSTP), the project focused on identifying a manufacturing route for an aluminium propellant tank created using three different alloy grades - AA6082, AA2219 and AA5028.

The AFRC's Forging and Incremental Technologies team was responsible for selecting methods of manufacture and carrying out research trials to understand whether each alloy could be successfully produced using cold spin forming.

Dr Martina Meisnar, Materials and Processes Evaluation Engineer, European Space Agency said:

As part of our Advanced Manufacturing initiative and roadmap, this project addressed the manufacturing of propellant tanks using advanced methods such as spin forming. Propellant tanks are commonly used on spacecraft, however, their manufacturing is very time consuming and expensive to date. The outcome of this project enables the fast manufacturing of cheaper tanks with additional functional benefits.

Industry impact

Through a series of research trials, the team successfully produced formed parts, systematically identifing the approach and methodology needed to spin form various aluminium alloys successfully.

Following the completion of the project, a new 60L aluminium tank has successfully passed its TRL06 design review, while other spin formed domes have been successfully introduced on the new Airbus JUICE spacecraft. Airbus expects to see cost savings in the region of 30%.