SpaceX aims to send 'Red Dragon' capsule to Mars in 2018 (Update)

SpaceX aims to send 'Red Dragon' capsule to Mars in 2018
This artist rendering provided by SpaceX shows a Dragon capsule sitting on the surface of Mars. SpaceX is shooting for Mars. The company's billionaire founder and chief executive Elon Musk says he plans to send a Dragon capsule to the red planet as early as 2018. Musk is dubbing his Mars spacecraft Red Dragon. (SpaceX via AP)

SpaceX is shooting for Mars.

Elon Musk, the company's billionaire founder and chief executive, announced Wednesday via Twitter that he plans to send a Dragon capsule to land on the red planet as early as 2018. It would represent a big first step toward his ultimate goal of colonizing the red planet.

The Mars spacecraft will be called Red Dragon, Musk said. No astronauts will accompany Red Dragon on this first test flight. Musk said he wouldn't recommend transporting crews in Dragons beyond the moon; its internal volume is only about the size of an SUV.

"Wouldn't be fun for longer journeys," Musk explained in a tweet.

California-based SpaceX already is using Dragons for space station supply runs, and the company could start flying Americans to the International Space Station by the end of next year.

Musk said the upgraded Dragon is designed to land anywhere in the solar system. The propulsive landing system was tested recently at the SpaceX plant in McGregor, Texas.

Red Dragon would be launched aboard a mightier version of the current SpaceX Falcon rocket that may make its debut at Florida's Kennedy Space Center by year's end.

Additional details on his overall Mars plan will come, Musk promised. After successfully landing a leftover Falcon booster at sea earlier this month, he said he would elaborate on his approach to establishing a city on Mars at an aerospace meeting in Mexico in September.

"I think it's going to sound pretty crazy. So it should be at least entertaining," he told reporters.

Musk maintains that reusing rockets is key to reducing launch costs and, consequently, opening up space. SpaceX now has managed to land a first-stage booster on land, as well as on an ocean platform. The recently retrieved booster could fly again on another satellite mission this summer.

NASA, meanwhile, has its own Mars exploration program, intended to send astronauts there in the 2030s. The space agency contracted out station deliveries in the post-shuttle era in order to focus on that long-term goal.

Shortly after the SpaceX announcement, NASA's deputy administrator, Dava Newman, said the space agency will offer technical support to Musk's company in exchange for Red Dragon descent and landing data from Mars. No money will be exchanged, she stressed.

"Sending astronauts to Mars, which will be one of the greatest feats of human innovation in the history of civilization, carries with it many, many puzzles to piece together," Newman wrote in a blog. "That's why we at NASA have made it a priority to reach out to partners in boardrooms, classrooms, laboratories, space agencies and even garages across our country and around the world."

The window to embark on a Mars mission—whether robotic or human—comes up only every two years because of planetary alignment.

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Apr 27, 2016
Landing this capsule at Mars is not a breaktrough, it is more or less as difficult as landing the Curiosity rover. The true difficult thing is to send it back to earth.

Apr 27, 2016
It's all been done before. But there has been so much data from all previous flights and secure landings that there shouldn't be too much in the way of surprises. Just wish I was 20 again.

Apr 27, 2016

The Red Dragon landing technology is entirely new. [ https://www.youtu...KHzziLKw ] The craft will do a shallow atmospheric dive in the northern plains where the surface lies low and flat so the pressure is high. After getting down to Apollo Moon return (high Earth) atmopsheric pressures the craft will do an Apollo return bounce bounce and revert liift (which is new) to follow the Mars curvature for ~ 1000 km (the plain is ~ 3 500 km wide). Then it looses lift at Mach 2 it will do a supersonic retroburn to make more or less a Falcon 9 hoverslam. (Though technically the T/W < 1 as in usual retrorocket landings.)

This breakthrough architecture, that does not use a chute which has always been used before at Mars, and uses supersonic retrorockets which has never been used before, is scalable to the 100 mt and 10-12 m wide MCT. Sure, SpaceX has done supersoic retroburns in Falcon 9, but never in a Dragon 2.

Apr 27, 2016
Perhaps he can use this mission to deliver a bunch of autonomous drones and potatoes...yes...potatoes.

Apr 28, 2016
To those who say it's been done before, NOT at the price Elon will be doing it for.

SpaceX is trying to make this stuff affordable. Sure we all know Viking 1 and 2 (also Curiosity) landed propulsively, but look at the cost of those vehicles. Scaling up the mass beyond a curiosity rover is very challenging.

SpaceX is taking steps towards a TAXI service to Mars. To make it affordable. This HASN'T been done before.

Apr 28, 2016
When we say it is not a breaktrough it does not mean that is not interesting and I agree it is the way to go. But what I said is that landing the capsule is similar in complexity to Curiosity mission (not the same thing, but no more difficult than that). And the really difficult part of a manned trip is still unsolved, which is to bring the huge amount of fuel that you will need for launching the return rocket from Mars (plus the Falcon X itself , if you want to use that one)

Apr 28, 2016
Sounds pretty ambitious. Would be wonderful if they could pull this off.

Apr 28, 2016
@ElonMusk Going to throw an ion drive on the next ship? Just thinkin ahead.

Apr 28, 2016
Besides testing the supersonic retropropulsion landings Red Dragon missions will also test technologies for their human Mars architecture to be announced in September.

As explained inbGQ a few months ago, this includes a gigantic booster and a spacecraft to match, notionally named the Big F'ing Rocket and Big F'ing Spaceship until they get official names. 15 million lbf of booster Thrust, 100 tonnes of useful cargo to the surface of Mars, 25 tonnes or return cargo to Earth, and components of their Raptor full flow staged combustion methane/LOX engine are already in tests at NASA Stennis.

Apr 29, 2016
the really difficult part of a manned trip is still unsolved, which is to bring the huge amount of fuel that you will need for launching the return rocket from Mars (plus the Falcon X itself , if you want to use that one)

They will not bring return fuel, they plan to produce the fuel at Mars. Cargo ships will bring a seed amount of hydrogen, which will be used to convert many more tons of CO2 from the atmosphere into CH4 and O2 - the rocket fuel that the MCT will use. The MCT will have the engines for supersonic retroburn and landing, as well as the much higher thrust you need to launch back to Earth again after refueling.

Apr 30, 2016
Red Dragon, OK. Big deal. The Chinese will launch the Red Noodle in 2018 and have a noodle house on Mars by 2020.

Apr 30, 2016
1) China has already said they can't compete with SpaceX in the launch market

2) they don't have a launcher as large as the US heavies; Delta IV Heavy now, plus Falcon Heavy after this years maiden flight. FH could orbit the mass of a fully loaded 737-200, or send about 14 tonnes to Mars. China not so much.

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