SpaceX, the world’s leading private entrepreneurship in space travel and exploration, will probably abandon its plans to land its Dragon capsules on Mars, which was planned for 2020.
SpaceX will not fully develop the landing technique it was going to use to land the Dragon on Mars. Known as the Red Dragon mission, the capsule was meant to lower itself to solid ground using engines embedded in its hull, and then touch down gently on landing legs in a method known as propulsive landing. But Musk said the company will come up with another way to land vehicles on the Martian surface.
“There was a time when I thought that the Dragon approach to landing on Mars… would be the right way to land on Mars,” Musk said at the ISS R&D Conference in Washington, DC today. “But now I’m pretty confident that is not the right way. There’s a far better approach. That’s what the next generation of SpaceX rockets and spacecraft is going to do.” Musk did not explain what that approach would be, though, or which vehicles the company would try to land on Mars in the future.
But a thruster-based landing can be challenging for a Martian spacecraft, which faces a greater danger of smashing on the ground than a craft with parachutes. In order to move forward with that plan, SpaceX would have to comply with NASA’s stringent safety requirements. “It would have taken a tremendous amount of effort to qualify that for safety, particularly for crew transport,” he said.
Musk said SpaceX is planning a new, smaller, yet more versatile and cheaper spacecraft to replace the Red Dragon, which may be unveiled as soon as September.
It was unclear how Musk planned to pay for the complete development of the Red Dragon, but he has been more transparent about how he plans to raise money for this new endeavor — despite his acknowledgement that it is “super expensive and complicated”.