Affordable Science May Power Spacex’s Red Dragon to Mars; Again and Again, and Again

Red Dragon Credit: SpaceX

Red Dragon
Credit: SpaceX

As much of the space community waits for September and the promised big reveal of SpaceX’s Mars colonization plans, company founder Elon Musk is finding it difficult to keep from spilling the beans about what is coming. In this interview in the Washington Post, an interesting venue considering the paper’s owner,  Musk shares a bit more information regarding the leadup to a possible first crewed mission in the mid 2020’s.

“Essentially what we’re saying is we’re establishing a cargo route to Mars,” he said. “It’s a regular cargo route. You can count on it. It’s going to happen every 26 months. Like a train leaving the station. And if scientists around the world know that they can count on that, and it’s going to be inexpensive, relatively speaking compared to anything in the past, then they will plan accordingly and come up with a lot of great experiments.”

and following the initial Red Dragon mission in 2018…

“By the next launch window, in 2020, Musk said the company would aim to fly at least two Falcon Heavy rockets and Dragon spacecraft, loaded with experiments. “By that time there will be quite a few organizations … that are interested in running experiments on Mars.”

What Musk is revealing here, and more important than the specific date of the first launch, is part of the business rationale which will help carry SpaceX through quite a few 26 month cycles of Mars trips.

There is no denying the fascination Mars has held over the human imagination for generations, and with the establishment of regular, affordable trips to the Red Planet, scientists from around our own, will have heretofore unimaginable access to it. One suspects it will take more than a few such missions to run out of credible research proposals.

Some are already falling into place. As SpaceNews reported late this week, NASA’s involvement may quickly reach beyond sharing data on Entry, Descent and Landing  (EDL), with the agency’s Planetary Sciences Division now eagerly considering the possibilities inherent in the Falcon Heavy/Red Dragon combination.

And then there is the growing stockpile of returned Falcon 9 first stages currently occupying the SpaceX hanger at KSC’s 39-A. While it remains to be seen how the company will configure the triple core Falcon Heavy boosters it allocates for Mars missions prior to the introduction of the Mars Colonial Transporter or MCT,  it seems reasonable that the company may be planning on further reducing the costs of those missions by utilizing recovered F9’s for the first stage. After all, it is always easier to do in house projects when many of the assets have already been paid for.

And if the first one doesn’t go as well as hoped…

Posted in: Mars, SpaceX

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