from the forward-to-Mars dept.
Writing on Popular Science, Sarah Fecht says:
In 2018, SpaceX could become the first private company to land its own spacecraft on Mars. But it doesn't plan to do so alone. NASA wants to see if SpaceX's landing tech could put astronauts on Mars, and to find out, its vowed to help the private company send an uncrewed capsule to the Red Planet.
Summarizing an article from SpaceFlightNow, she continues:
While SpaceX would fund and build the uncrewed Red Dragon capsule and the Falcon Heavy rocket it launches on, NASA would take a supportive role in the mission, providing communications through the Deep Space Network--a mesh of telescopes around the world that keeps NASA in constant contact with all its spacecraft, despite the Earth's spinning.
NASA will also help locate a landing site for the Red Dragon, Spaceflight Now reports, and will help to prevent Earth microbes from hitching a ride on the Red Dragon and contaminating Mars.
All told, NASA estimates it'll spend about $32 million dollars on the mission--quite a bargain, considering the space agency hopefully get a new landing technology out of it. The Red Dragon would fire retrothrusters to attempt a soft landing on Mars--something that's never been attempted before for such a large spacecraft. SpaceX is expecting to spend about $300 million on it.
By contrast, NASA spent $2.5 billion on the Curiosity rover and its novel "sky crane" landing method. If all goes well, the Red Dragon mission will pave the way to put people on Mars, either by NASA or SpaceX.
Confirming rumors and suspicions that SpaceX is adjusting its plans to begin dispatching robotic landers to Mars, NASA officials said the commercial space company has informed the agency that it has put its Red Dragon program on the back burner.
Under the terms of a Space Act Agreement between NASA and SpaceX, the government agreed to provide navigation and communications services for the Red Dragon mission, which originally aimed to deliver an unpiloted lander to Mars in 2018. SpaceX confirmed earlier this year the launch of the experimental lander on a Falcon Heavy rocket had slipped to 2020. But Elon Musk, SpaceX's founder and chief executive, said last month that the company is redesigning its next-generation Dragon capsule, a craft designed to carry astronauts to the International Space Station, to do away with the capability for propulsive, precision helicopter-like landings as originally envisioned. Returning space crews will instead splash down in the ocean under parachutes.
[...] Musk wrote in a tweet that SpaceX has not abandoned supersonic retro-propulsion at Mars. "Plan is to do powered landings on Mars for sure, but with a vastly bigger ship," he tweeted last month after the announcement that SpaceX is omitting the propulsive landing capability on the Crew Dragon.
Musk said his team at SpaceX is refining how the company could send people to Mars, eventually to settle there. He revealed a Mars transportation architecture in a speech at the 67th International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico, last year, but the outline has since changed. A vision for gigantic interplanetary transporters Musk presented last year has been downsized, he said. Musk said he will unveil the changes during a presentation in September at this year's International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, Australia.