SpaceX Tests Huge Fuel Tank for Mars Colony Spaceship (Photo)

SpaceX Tests Huge Fuel Tank for Mars Spaceship
SpaceX tows the prototype carbon-fiber fuel tank for its crewed Mars spaceship out to sea for pressure tests in November 2016. (Image credit: SpaceX via Twitter)

SpaceX has successfully tested a prototype of the gigantic fuel tank the company is developing for its planned Mars spaceship, company representatives said.

SpaceX towed the full-size carbon-fiber tank — the largest such vessel ever produced, according to company founder and CEO Elon Musk — out to sea on a barge last week, then tested how the tank performed under pressure.

"Hit both of our pressure targets — next up will be full cryo[genic] testing," SpaceX wrote via Twitter, where the company posts as @SpaceX. [SpaceX's Mars Colony Ship in Images]

The enormous tank is a key component of SpaceX's Interplanetary Transport System (ITS), the reusable rocket-spaceship combo the company is developing to take people to and from Mars. Such tanks will house propellant for the Raptor engines that will power both the rocket and the spaceship.

The Raptor, which is also in development, will run on methane and liquid oxygen, both of which SpaceX plans to produce on Mars, Musk has said.

Prototype of SpaceX's huge carbon-fiber propellant tank, which the company will use in its planned Mars spaceship. (Image credit: SpaceX via Facebook)

SpaceX aims to launch an uncrewed Mars mission as early as 2018, using the company's Falcon Heavy rocket and Dragon capsule. The Dragon will attempt to land on the Red Planet, to test out technologies that will help get the ITS spaceships down safely.

If everything goes well, the first ITS mission could launch as early as 2024, Musk has said. Many more missions could follow in short order; during the unveiling of the ITS architecture in September, Musk said he aims to help establish a million-person city on Mars within the next 50 to 100 years. (Each ITS spaceship will be capable of transporting 100 to 200 people at a time, Musk said.)

Mars colonization is a long-standing goal of Musk's. The billionaire has repeatedly said that he started SpaceX back in 2002 primarily to help make humanity a multiplanet species.

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.