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SpaceX ITS 12-Meter Carbon Fiber Cryotank

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Casually unveiled during Elon Musk’s presentation at last week’s International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara Mexico, the full-scale prototype carbon fiber cryotank. The 12-meter diameter tank is an integral component of the interplanetary spaceship. The tank is presently the largest carbon fiber cryogenic tank in existence and represents significant advancement on technologies pioneered under NASA’s $25 million Composite Cryotank Technologies and Demonstration project, undertaken in partnership with Boeing, which produced a 5.5 meter cryotank.

From NASA: “For more than 50 years, heavy metal cryogenic tanks have carried the liquid hydrogen (LH2) and oxygen necessary to launch vehicles into space. But in a joint effort, NASA and The Boeing Co. (Chicago, IL, US) have designed, fabricated and tested a composite cryotank that, if scaled up to current space launch system dimensions, would weigh 30% less and cost 25% less than the best aluminum-lithium cryotanks used today.”

According to the presentation the tanks will not use helium pressurization but instead will be pressurized via a heat exchanger run off of the propulsion system. This simplifies the system and negates the need to carry additional gases. Likewise the reaction control system will use the same liquid methane/liquid oxygen propellant as the primary propulsion system instead of hypergolic propellant and will use an electric spark ignition system rather than an ignition fluid.  .

In conversation Winchell Chung, of Atomic Rockets, said: "Both ULA and SpaceX are into minimizing redundant systems.

ULA calls it "Integrated Vehicle Fluids." In ULA's ACES uses just the basic liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen fuel for main propulsion, propellant pressurization, RCS, power from fuel cells, and heat radiators.
Space Tug: ULA.

SpaceX's interplanetary transport system uses gasified propellant for both autogenous tank pressurization and for RCS. And uses methane instead of hydrogen, for Martian in-situ resource utilization, making methane out of the Martian atmosphere by using the Sabatier reaction.

In both cases, reducing the number of extra systems (helium tank pressurization, hydrazine RCS, etc) reduces the number of point-of-failure.

The takeaway is that SpaceX is not merely selling a narrative composed of CAD drawings and vaporware, but that the program revealed by Elon Musk already involves a significant technology and advanced manufacturing investment producing real hardware.

The future is coming faster than you think.

You can watch Elon Musk's full presentation from my journal, here: Making Humans a Multiplanetary Species

Video: SpaceX Interplanetary Transport System

Image Courtesy SpaceX

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1-800-blyatline-blin's avatar
Oh lord, future's so bright you gotta wear shades.
nirryc's avatar
Now that's HUGE. Wow.. :)
Halpthiuian's avatar
WOW! Looks like, if this passes milestone, this will put SpaceX way ahead of their competition.
William-Black's avatar
Considering no one else is proposing an interplanetary spacecraft capable of transporting 100 people to Mars, flight to begin in 2022, yeah, I would say it does exactly that. See the diagram here at the link: SpaceX-ITS-Diagram-01