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Space X Plans First Mars Mission in 2018

Technology billionaire Elon Musk’s private aerospace firm Space X is working with NASA on a mission to Mars in early 2018, as per a Space Act Agreement. Musk is the firm’s CEO and lead designer. By working together, this relationship will benefit both parties. There will be a great deal of information sharing.

NASA deputy administrator Dava Newman says,

We’re particularly excited about an upcoming Space X project that would build upon a current “no-exchange-of-funds” agreement we have with the company. In exchange for Martian entry, descent and landing data from Space X, NASA will offer technical support for the firm’s plan to attempt to land an uncrewed Dragon 2 spacecraft on Mars.

Artist's rendering of the Red Dragon on the surface of Mars.

Artist’s rendering of the Red Dragon on the surface of Mars.

Space X’s goal is to see a human colony on Mars.

Musk has said,

I think that’s the system that, at least according to my calculations, will enable someone to move to Mars for about a half-million dollars … There are those who can afford to go and those who want to go. I think if we can achieve that intersection, then it will happen – and, hopefully, it will happen before I’m dead.

Rocket launch, as when the Falcon Heavy sends Red Dragon off to Mars.

Rocket launch, as when the Falcon Heavy sends Red Dragon off to Mars.

To get there, Space X’s “Red Dragon” unmanned craft will be launched by a Falcon Heavy rocket. This new rocket, a heavy-lift variant plans to be the most powerful rocket since NASA’s Saturn V moon rocket. It will be launched from Space X’s Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. By using the Falcon Heavy, Red Dragon will be able to transport four-tons of payload to the surface of the Red Planet.

Musk says,

With Dragon launched on a Falcon Heavy, it can go pretty much anywhere in the solar system, because that’s a heck of a big rocket. Dragon, with the heat shield, parachutes and propulsive landing capability, is able to land on a planet that has higher entry heating, like Mars. It can also land on he Moon, or potentially conduct a Europa mission.

Artist's rendering of Red Dragon's soft landing on the surface of Mars.

Artist’s rendering of Red Dragon’s soft landing on the surface of Mars.

Red Dragon’s eight Super Draco engines will allow for a soft landing on Mars surface. Its liquid thrusters can reach a maximum of approximately 100 milliseconds of the ignition command. They can be throttled on real-time measurements from the vehicle’s on-board sensors.

Newman explains,

A successful landing on Mars will help Space X demonstrate the technologies needed to land large payloads propulsively on Mars, while providing the role of scout ship, informing the company’s overall Mars colonization architecture and potential landing sites rich in raw materials required for a Mars colony. For NASA, it will also add to its own knowledge base about the Red Planet, ahead of its own proposed missions to Mars in the late 2030’s.

Currently, Space X has a $1.6 billion contract with NASA to provide 12 cargo delivery missions to the International Space Station utilizing its Falcon 9 rockets and Dragon spacecraft.

The firm has also been developing a manned version of the Dragon spacecraft with test flights scheduled for 2017. Space X has launch pads at Cape Canaveral Air Force Base in Florida and has leased the historic Launch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center for future flights, like the Mars mission.

Space X was funded in 2002 with the goal of advancing space flight by accelerating the development of rocket technology and lowering the cost of rocket launches.

This mission between the private and public sector seems to provide the model for future space exploration endeavors.

For more on this story, check out the latest Mysterious Universe podcast!