A New Frontier for Space Technology: Liquefied Natural Gas Transportation on Earth

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Cryogenic tank technology that fueled the space shuttle will be used for transportation and storage on Earth.

If you stacked every custom-designed external fuel tank Lockheed Martin built for the NASA space shuttle program from 1979 through 2010, you’d have a carefully-balanced structure nearly 12 times taller than One World Trade Center in New York City.

And although Lockheed Martin engineers don’t currently have the answer for how to stack 136 15-story fuel tanks on top of one another, they do have the answer of how to apply their cryogenic fuel storage solutions to assist maritime and trucking industries in meeting stricter emissions mandates by the EPA and North American Emission Control Area (ECA).    

On Dec. 11, Lockheed Martin announced our new contract to produce cryogenic liquefied natural gas (LNG) tanks for Wärtsilä, a Finnish power solution provider, that are part of the propulsion solution that will power the Harvey Gulf offshore supply vessels (OSVs) operating in the Gulf of Mexico. A separate contract is signed with Harvey Gulf International Marine LLC, a marine transportation company, to provide land-based LNG tanks that will refuel their OSVs.

The tanks will be manufactured at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility – the same location where Lockheed Martin manufactured and delivered external fuel tanks for space shuttle missions. Earlier this year, Lockheed Martin announced that they would start producing tanks inside this 43-acre indoor facility eliminating outdoor manufacturing issues that arise from weather delays. A deep water barge dock also allows for efficient shipping of the tanks to customer’s waterfront locations.

“This is an exciting opportunity because it allows us to leverage the defense and space-related capabilities we’re known for in a commercial sector with significant economic and environmental advantages,” said Rob Smith, vice president of Space & Cyber programs for Lockheed Martin IS&GS-Defense. “We look forward to a long-term relationship with our industry partners, and I’m confident we’ll deliver a consistently reliable alternative energy fuel storage solution for our customers.” 

Lockheed Martin is custom manufacturing tanks with different configurations and capacities for multiple LNG supply chain applications. All tanks are manufactured to American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) standards for pressure vessels using the quality and safety attention to detail that was implemented for the shuttle tank program.

Building fuel tanks for the space program required engineering discipline and inventive problem solving. Lockheed Martin is shifting the application of those skills to develop fuel storage solutions for a familiar frontier by finding a new use for technology developed for the final frontier.

Posted December 11, 2013

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highlights
  • The corporation is under contract to produce cryogenic liquefied natural gas (LNG) tanks for Wärtsilä, a Finnish power solution provider, that are part of the propulsion solution that will power the Harvey Gulf offshore supply vessels (OSVs) operating in the Gulf of Mexico.
  • The tanks will be manufactured at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility – the same location where Lockheed Martin manufactured and delivered external fuel tanks for space shuttle missions.

Learn more about Lockheed Martin's energy solutions and our work in alternative energy.