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ROCKET-driven spacecraft normally use strong, heavy-metal mountings to hold their fuel tanks in place within the fuselage. But there may be a better way. Burt Rutan, the aerospace pioneer whose firm Scaled Composites is designing civilian suborbital spacecraft for Virgin Galactic, is using an alternative technique to secure the fuel tanks in order to keep the weight of the space plane down. Rutan says the use of heavy mountings can be avoided completely by careful design of the tank and fuselage.
His idea, described in a US patent granted last month, is to glue the fuel tanks to the inside of the craft. His tanks have a cylindrical composite-coated midsection that fits snugly inside the spacecraft and is bonded to the inner surface of the fuselage with a superstrong industrial adhesive. A secure fit is crucial as the tanks are connected to the combustion chamber where fuel is burned, and any movement could risk a dangerous leak.