A Small Step to Mars
Mars just got a step closer for SpaceX this week. On Wednesday, Elon Musk's venture space company announced that it successfully tested the liquid oxygen tank (LOX) for its Interplanetary Transport System (ITS). The huge piece, which looks like a giant black orb, is critical for its Mars spaceship.
In a tweet, SpaceX confirmed that the test "[h]it both of our pressure targets." The LOX is a fuel tank made of carbon fiber and has a diameter of roughly 12 meters (about 40 ft). According to ITS plans from SpaceX, the LOX will be fitted in the rocket's upper stage.
Successfully tested the prototype Mars tank last week. Hit both of our pressure targets – next up will be full cryo testing. pic.twitter.com/GGTlgUQCRY
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) November 16, 2016
Musk previously showed photos of a prototype LOX, presumably the same one used in the test, during his September 27 presentation at the 67th International Astronomical Congress (IAC) in Guadalajara, Mexico. "This is really the hardest part of the spaceship," Musk said then. "The other pieces ... we have a pretty good handle on, but this was the trickiest one. So we wanted to tackle it first."
From Dream to Reality
In an October 23 Reddit AMA, Musk said that SpaceX will "take [the tank] up to 2/3 of burst pressure on an ocean barge in the coming weeks.” Last Wednesday's tweet confirmed that this was actually done successfully.
Ever since his announcement last September, all curious eyes are on SpaceX as it seems to take the lead in bringing humanity to Mars. While it isn't the only Mars program in development, with NASA having its own and Boeing recently joining the race, SpaceX's plans appear to be the most far along of the bunch.
SpaceX understands the importance of getting the LOX right, as the company isn't unfamiliar with fuel tank mishaps. Soon, as the tweet also announced, SpaceX will move to "full cryo testing" for the LOX.