Launch Vehicle Development Program

Launch Vehicle–MLI (LV-MLI) is an innovative thermal insulation robust enough to survive launch on the outside of launch vehicles and provide high performance on-orbit heat leak reduction for launch vehicle cryopropellant tanks. Cryogenic propellants are used in NASA and commercial launch vehicles, but require insulation to minimize boiloff loss. LV-MLI provides 68X lower heat leak than SOFI, with 31% of the mass.  LV-MLI uses Quest proprietary discrete spacer technology in a rugged bonded up structure to withstand aerodynamic launch loading.  LV-MLI can increase payload and orbit capabilities for NASA, national security and commercial missions.

Launch Vehicle MLI is an IMLI insulation system specifically engineered for use insulating cryogenic propellant tanks on cryogenic upper stage launch vehicles.  Vehicles such as the current Centaur and Delta Cryogenic Second Stage, in development vehicles such as interim Cryogenic Propellant Stage and Advanced Common Evolved Stage, as well as launch vehicles in development by other prime contractors, would all benefit from improved insulation on cryopropellant tanks. Quest analysis indicates propellant boiloff could be substantially reduced with a 2.5 layer LVMLI system. Literature articles also discuss the advantages of reduced boiloff, longer coast and loiter times, and larger payloads to GSO from better insulation. LVMLI is a ruggedized, lightweight IMLI structure potentially strong enough to survive launch loads on exposed cryotank sidewalls, and certainly strong enough as insulation under fairings.

Quest Thermal Group has completed a NASA Phase I development program that designed, analyzed, prototyped, tested and proved the feasibility of an LVMLI concept.  Key results of this six month program were:
Launch Vehicle Development Program


LV-MLI prototypes has a measured heat flux 68X times lower than SOFI, has 33% of the mass of the SOFI, and withstood simulated aerodynamic shockwave forces.

Launch Vehicle Development Program Launch Vehicle Development Program

Potential Applications


Launch Vehicle Multi-Layer Insulation (LV-MLI) could provide high performance thermal insulation acting as its own fairing in one integrated, lightweight system. LV-IMLI could provide benefit to NASA with increased launch vehicle mission capabilities, such as longer duration cryogenic powered missions, longer coast times for orbital transitions, higher payload capacity to GSO, enhancements to the workhorse Atlas V and Delta IV launch vehicle families, applicability to upcoming cryogenic upper stage designs such as Advanced Common Evolved Stage and Space Launch System, and general improvements to cryogenic fluid management (with improved passive thermal control) important for future NASA extended missions and orbital fuel depots.
LV-MLI may be able to replace SOFI in certain situations, which would be very beneficial to NASA and space launch service providers by providing a more robust, more reliable, lower mass and lower heat leak insulation system.

LV-MLI may be able to provide:

  • The ability to provide high performance thermal insulation of ~3 W/m2 (2 ½ -layer, 0.37cm, on-orbit, 20K to 295K), 68X lower heat leak than SOFI
  • ability to be fabricated in large panels and readily installed on launch vehicles
  • ability to withstand aerodynamic launch loads
  • provide reduced boiloff and increased capabilities for cryogenic upper stages:
    • Atlas V/Centaur
    • Delta IV/Delta Cryogenic Second Stage
    • ACES
    • Space Launch System vehicle cryogenic stages (and the iCPS vehicle)
    • Other launch vehicles with cryogenic fuels

LVMLI development is continuing with a Ball Aerospace IRAD program with Quest Thermal Group. There are currently three versions of LVMLI in development; a very lightweight version for use under fairings and operating in the vacuum of space, a mid-weight version that contains an integrated lightweight vacuum shell for use in-air pre-launch (SOFI replacement) and on-orbit, and a slightly heavier version with a thin, Aluminum vacuum shell designed for use in-air and on-orbit and to be installed on cryotank sidewalls exposed to aerodynamic forces.

A Phase II LVMLI development program is being developed to support interest from several Prime Contractors.  This two year program would further technology maturation of the Light Weight Shell LVMLI, perform vehicle specific design and testing, and further develop production and installation processes for specific vehicles and integration into specific vehicle assembly processes.

Launch Vehicle Development Program