European Space Agency

Non-Metallic Tanks for Spacecraft Propulsion Systems


The recent market growth of small spacecraft constellations has created a challenge within the existing space propulsion supply chain for low-cost reliable components, which meet the rapid delivery schedule and support the on-going reduction of orbital debris. With the growth in the constellation and small satellite markets set to increase rapidly, the development of components that meet the challenging criteria is critical.

The objective is to supply space propulsion system integrators with non-metallic, demisable tanks at lower cost and shorter lead times that can be offered in a wider range of configurations to exactly suit the end user requirement.

Currently there are no providers available in Europe that can deliver these attributes. It is important that the products be non ITAR (US Export), to ensure widest applicability and to reduce both cost and time delays.

The first mover to deliver these products will completely disrupt the global commercial market. With a complete supply gap for which there is a definite requirement (the advent and growth of satellite constellations), this makes for a compelling opportunity, but as the technology is projected to be scaleable, the development will apply to a broad range of satellite tank sizes, and space applications 


The primary challenge of this project is to identify readily available composite materials that will support development of space propulsion tanks within a high reliability mission with ultra-low permeation of gas. Heritage suppliers of such materials will be used wherever possible along with standard proven processes.

Special focus will be given to mounting and fluid system interfaces to ensure space mission requirements are met in full, over all expected environments.

Finally, the application must meet the objectives of low-cost to Customer, and demiseability in line with ESA Clean Space.


Traditional metallic lined propellant and gas tanks in use on spacecraft systems have inherent restrictions on cost, and delivery lead-time, resulting from the complex processing of the metallic parts and the high level of inspection and test required by the industry. By removing the metallic liner and replacing with composites, much of the cost and processing time can be minimised. In the field of satellite constellations, this price reduction will be highly disruptive, allowing large cost reductions to systems. This will encourage greater and faster growth in small satellites and benefit the growth in the industry and social applications


The use of metallic components in propellant tanks introduces high costs in forming/forging and processing of domes, joining techniques and precision machining, leading to waste and lengthy timescales. The replacement of these materials with composite-polymer combinations allows for quicker manufacturing and less wastage, thereby reducing costs and schedule delays. With propellant tanks being central to a spacecraft design, a long lead time introduces risks to integration plans and any delay can be costly. By reducing production time and introducing a new supply chain, major reductions to satellite integration times and associated costs can be achieved. 

System Architecture

By removing the dependency on metallic tank parts and traditional production methods, it may be possible to design tanks to make more efficient use of volumes within satellite envelopes, and maximising available volumes. Non-traditional tank designs may be introduced. In addition, it will be possible to incorporate electronic sensors into the composite shell, therefore allowing the provision of tanks with pressure, thermal and gauging equipment embedded at delivery, ready for integration 


Kick off – May 2019, Requirements Review July 2019; Test Readiness Review (TRR) September 2019; Test Review Board (TRB) March 2020; Final Review Sept 2020

Current status

Kick-Off – performed May 2019, successful

Requirement Specification and preliminary test plan produced: concluded successfully

Materials and Processes Definition and Down Selection is underway

Customers review of specification and test plan

Status date

Tuesday, September 24, 2019 - 06:36