SpaceX aiming for Mars by 2018, paving the way for humans on Mars within 10 years
The commercial space agency SpaceX is speeding up its plans to land a spacecraft on Mars, with plans to put a spacecraft on the Red Planet by 2018. If the mission is successful, it could accelerate the timetable for putting humans on Mars by five years or more.
Working with NASA, SpaceX is planning on using its new Heavy Falcon rocket to reach Mars in the next two years or so. The rocket was initially set to launch for the first time in 2022, but it is far ahead of schedule. An exact date hasn’t been chosen yet, but the current plan is for the rocket’s maiden launch to happen at some point later this year.
The Heavy Falcon will carry a new generation of Dragon capsule, known as the Red Dragon. The spacecraft was designed to land on almost any solid object in the solar system. The interior is roughly the size of an SUV, which rules it our for lengthy crewed missions, but it is potentially ideal to land on Mars and return to Earth filled with samples collected by NASA’s Mars Rover – or possibly Mars Rovers, depending on the schedule.
“Dragon 2 is designed to be able to land anywhere in the solar system,” Musk tweeted. “Red Dragon Mars mission is the first test flight.”
Scientists are currently desperate to obtain samples from Mars. Remotely, the Mars Rover has sent back enough tantalizing information (combined with visual data) to change the way researchers look at the planet. Samples are the next, obvious step.
NASA’s current plan is to send another rover to Mars in 2020; a future Red Dragon landing could be attached to that mission with plans to bring samples back. The Rover would target specific locations on Mars for sample collection, then bring them to the Red Dragon. Once full, the capsule would then utilize another new piece of hardware, the Super Draco thruster.
The thruster is a 3D-printed component, designed to help the capsule land on the planet with helicopter-like precision. It would also serve as an emergency escape system, and eventually help send the capsule back into orbit, where it would begin its long journey home.
This accelerated schedule will also impact future Mars plans, in a big way. SpaceX is currently planning on its first crewed test flights in the Dragon capsules in 2017. Assuming there are no setbacks, a larger capsule, designed for long-term flights, will begin production.
There are several steps along the way, but if the capsule looks good, the Heavy Falcon rocket works as expected, and the Super Draco thruster is functional, Elon Musk’s predictions of landing humans on Mars by 2025 may come true.