Zero gravity tank gauge set for tests in space

The European Space Agency is funding a project that will allow a UK company to test SMARRTS, a sensor technology that measures tank characteristics in zero gravity.

SMARRTS is set for launch to ISS in 2025
SMARRTS is set for launch to ISS in 2025 - AdobeStock

Developed by Atout Process, SMARTTS (Smart Tanks for Space) is set to undergo trials onboard the International Space Station (ISS).

Atout said its technology uses electrical capacitance tomography sensors to measure the mass of liquid in a tank, show where it is and how it is moving, and to calculate the resulting forces on the vehicle.

In a statement, Andrew Hunt, chief executive at Atout, said: “We’re confident that SMARTTS can report, in real-time, accurate measurements of fuel, even in space. Thanks to ESA, we’ll now get the chance to prove it in orbit through experiments on the International Space Station. It’s essential new technology for proposed new space industries and will enable measurable in-orbit refuelling.”


To build the prototype SMARTTS system to go to the ISS, Atout will enlist the help of space engineers at Surrey Space Centre, which is part of Surrey University, and use the specialist facilities there.

Professor Keith Ryden, director of Surrey Space Centre, said: “With their SMARTTS, Atout have a fantastic product and we’re helping them demonstrate its value. We have built many instruments to go to space so we’re well placed to advise them and have the specialist equipment and facilities they’ll need, like clean rooms and machines to check SMARTTS can withstand the stresses of launch and the harsh conditions of space.

“Gauges like those used in cars don’t work in zero gravity, so alternative techniques are used in space which rely on estimates and calculations. However, errors can accumulate and there’s no real-time information, so mission designers have to factor in extra reserves of fuel, with significant associated costs. SMARTTS could be a real game-changer in the space sector, saving money and opening doors to new industries, and we’re keen to see how they operate in orbit.”

Atout will build the prototype SMARTTS system in 2024 in time for ESA’s planned launch in 2025.