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SpaceX announces plan to send mission to Mars in 2018

Artist's concept of SpaceX's Red Dragon spacecraft landing on Mars. Credit: SpaceX
Artist’s concept of SpaceX’s Red Dragon spacecraft landing on Mars. Credit: SpaceX

Elon Musk’s space transport company — chartered with a long-term goal of colonizing Mars — plans to send the first commercial mission to the red planet as soon as 2018 with assistance from NASA, SpaceX announced Wednesday.

Measuring about 20 feet tall and 12 feet wide, the Red Dragon spacecraft will not carry astronauts, but it will land on Mars to show the new capsule’s ability to reach far-flung destinations throughout the solar system, SpaceX said.

Musk plans to reveal SpaceX’s concept for sending humans to Mars in September at the 67th International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico.

SpaceX announced the first Red Dragon mission on the company’s social media accounts Wednesday.

“SpaceX is planning to send Dragons to Mars as early as 2018,” the company said on Facebook. “Red Dragon missions will help inform the overall Mars architecture that will be unveiled later this year. These missions will help demonstrate the technologies needed to land large payloads propulsively on Mars.”

Musk has kept details of SpaceX’s Mars initiative secret ahead of his presentation later this year in Mexico.

More than half of Mars missions have ended in failure, and NASA is the only space agency to successfully land a spacecraft on the red planet and return science data.

NASA will help SpaceX with the Red Dragon mission, providing technical assistance, communications and navigation support, and perhaps a suite of science instruments to ride to Mars inside the spacecraft, according to an agreement signed between the space agency and Musk’s company.

The Red Dragon concept is not new.

SpaceX released illustrations of the Red Dragon spacecraft landing on Mars last year, and Musk discussed the Dragon capsule’s exploration capabilities before Wednesday’s announcement.

Artist's concept of the Red Dragon spacecraft entering the Martian atmosphere, using its SuperDraco thrusters to slow down for landing. Credit: SpaceX
Artist’s concept of the Red Dragon spacecraft entering the Martian atmosphere, using its SuperDraco thrusters to slow down for landing. Credit: SpaceX

“Dragon 2 is designed to be able to land anywhere in the solar system,” Musk wrote Wednesday in a Twitter post. “Red Dragon Mars mission is the first test flight.”

The Dragon 2 spacecraft is the next version of SpaceX’s space transport capsule, introducing major overhauls to the Dragon cargo carrier currently flying on resupply flights to the International Space Station.

The next-generation Dragon will fly astronauts to the space station and feature SuperDraco jetpacks to push the crew away from a failing rocket — if required — during launch.

The eight SuperDraco engines, burning a mixture of hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide propellants and made with 3D-printed parts, can cumulatively produce up to 120,000 pounds of thrust. If the thrusters are not used during launch, the SuperDracos can steer the Dragon capsule to propulsive landings at the end of its mission.

The human-rated version of Dragon, set to debut with astronauts by the end of 2017, will initially fly with four parachutes and splash down in the ocean. SpaceX hopes to certify the propulsive landing capability for crewed missions in a few years.

Musk touted the second-generation Dragon’s capacity for interplanetary missions last year, after the first flight test with SuperDraco thrusters at Cape Canaveral to prove the Crew Dragon’s ability to quickly escape a catastrophic rocket mishap on the launch pad.

The Dragon 2 is “capable of transporting scientific payloads to anywhere in the solar system — with a liquid or solid surface, and with or without an atmosphere,” Musk said in May 2015.

He added the Dragon spacecraft, coupled with a launch on the behemoth Falcon Heavy rocket, could put two to four tons of science hardware on Mars.

Artist’s concepts accompanying Wednesday’s brief statement showed the Red Dragon mission launching aboard SpaceX’s new Falcon Heavy rocket from launch pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Artist's concept of the Falcon Heavy rocket blasting off with a Dragon spacecraft. Credit: SpaceX
Artist’s concept of the Falcon Heavy rocket blasting off with a Dragon spacecraft. Credit: SpaceX

Opportunities for direct trips to Mars come every 26 months, when the planets are correctly positioned in the solar system to make the journey possible. The next Mars launch window opens in May 2018.

The first flight of the Falcon Heavy — made from three Falcon 9 rocket boosters bolted together — is scheduled for no sooner than November after several years of delays.

But it is clear the Red Dragon mission is just a stepping stone to grander ambitions. Human missions to Mars will need a much larger craft, Musk said.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

Source: You’ll find lots of information about the planets Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Also we have facts about the space station, ISS, SpaceX launch, space program, and outerspace. Space Flight

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SpaceX announces plan to send mission to Mars in 2018

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