Space

SpaceX fast-tracks Mars plans and shoots for 2018 launch of unmanned lander

Elon Musk revealed that the updated Dragon has cabin space roughly equal to an SUV
Elon Musk revealed that the updated Dragon has cabin space roughly equal to an SUV
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The Red Dragon lander will ride on SpaceX's soon-to-be-completed Falcon Heavy rocket
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The Red Dragon lander will ride on SpaceX's soon-to-be-completed Falcon Heavy rocket
Elon Musk revealed that the updated Dragon has cabin space roughly equal to an SUV
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Elon Musk revealed that the updated Dragon has cabin space roughly equal to an SUV
The Red Dragon will touch down on the Martian surface using SpaceX's SuperDraco thruster
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The Red Dragon will touch down on the Martian surface using SpaceX's SuperDraco thruster

Either Elon Musk really, really can't wait to get to Mars or the engineers working for him are building the necessary technologies a bit faster than expected. In any case, SpaceX has just announced plans to have one of its Dragon spacecraft on its way to the Red Planet as soon as 2018, four years earlier than anticipated.

NASA currently has unmanned rovers trawling the surface of Mars for signs of life, but if some of that red rock could be hauled back and prodded by scientists in fully equipped laboratories here on Earth the search may become more fruitful. NASA is preparing to send another rover to Mars in 2020 that will collect rock and soil samples, but the agency had no ironclad plan for how these might be returned to Earth.

Enter SpaceX and its unmanned Dragon capsule, which made history in 2012 as the first commercial spacecraft to carry cargo to the ISS and also return cargo to Earth. SpaceX had been at looking at modifying the Dragon spacecraft as an unmanned lander for the Martian surface, and last year this idea piqued the interest of NASA researchers.

Under a NASA proposal, the Red Dragon lander would ride on SpaceX's soon-to-be-completed Falcon Heavy rocket on a launch originally slated for 2022, then bring samples collected by the rover back to Earth for study. With the Falcon Heavy due for completion and maiden lift-off later this year, SpaceX has now revealed plans to send the Red Dragon into space within a couple of short years.

It is not yet clear how this fits in with NASA's timeline and plans to collect its rock samples, but SpaceX says Red Dragons will begin laying early groundwork for eventual colonization of Mars.

"Planning to send Dragon to Mars as soon as 2018, Red Dragons will inform overall Mars architecture, details to come," SpaceX tweeted earlier today.

Musk also weighed in from his personal Twitter account, adding that the "Dragon 2 is designed to be able to land anywhere in the solar system. Red Dragon Mars mission is the first test flight." He also revealed that the updated Dragon has cabin space roughly equal to an SUV (suggesting that it would be uncomfortable for long haul manned flights).

If all goes to plan, the Red Dragon will touch down on the Martian surface using SpaceX's SuperDraco thruster. This 3D-printed component also serves as the capsule's launch emergency escape system and is designed to allow powered landings with the precision of a helicopter.

With a series of successful resupply missions to the ISS under its belt, SpaceX is working on a version of Dragon that can take astronauts along for the ride. Manned test flights are expected to start in two to three years, with Musk publicly stating that human missions to Mars could commence by around 2025.

Source: Twitter

6 comments
Chizzy
I'd love to see designs for a BEAM centric Earth Mars transit craft. I'm also wondering how Beam would do in a spin configuration to provide simulated gravity. That solves one of the big voyage to mars problem, loss of muscle and bone mass prior to arrival. Once you have tech that can take you down and back from the surface of mars safely, then the next step is getting there with a reusable transit craft. Eventually a few mars/earth crossing asteroids will get nudged into regular orbits and act as regular Earth/Mars Transit ferry service, but thats still a century away.
RichardU
There is absolutely no way man can get to Mars and back safely. We are years away from this. Problems with body deterioration in zero gravity for months at a time and protection from radiation, We have overcome those little problems first.
Nik
I've been waiting for this sort of news for over 40 years, since the moon landings. I hope I dont die of old age before it happens.
habakak
We won't be able to send a man to Mars and bring him back safely until our energy paradigm changes. The number of problems and the size of the problems to be overcome to send a man to Mars and back (which entails living there for a while until the planets align for the shortest trip back to earth) are insurmountable with current energy technology. This is a stupid pipe-dream that cannot be solved with current technologies. We need exponentially greater access to more energy to make this possible. Only with the advent of something like a nuclear fusion reactor would we be able to address the energy requirements to develop a realistic approach to sending man to Mars and back. ALL problems are solved by energy. At the end of the day, ALL problems are energy related and solving anything requires an energy answer.
Douglas Bennett Rogers
People have already been in zero g for over a year. Effects seem reversible. Radiation shielding could be provided by food and waste. Part of ISS could be used for this.
Kristianna Thomas
NASA has landed several rovers on the planet Mars, and have done it very successfully. The only problem with the rovers that are now exploring the planet is that they don't return back to Earth in order to give scientists a chance to interact with real Martian soil. The tech hurdle is to have a craft that can return to Earth with a sample, proving the feasibility of having the technological where-with-all of have the ability to go to Mars and come back. The voyage to Mars, a robotic mission, would still take six months to get to the Red planet, and six months back to Earth. That is a lot of fuel the craft would have to take with it. NASA is developing an engine that uses liquid methane, and if that would be possible the craft could gather methane on Mars; producing its own fuel for the return journey to Earth. Future astronauts could benefit from the technological experience of the rover showing the feasibility of such technologies.
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