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posted by martyb on Monday August 21 2017, @05:53AM   Printer-friendly
from the draggin'-dragon? dept.

SpaceX informed NASA of slowdown in its commercial Mars program

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.

Previously: NASA to Take a Supportive Role in SpaceX's Red Dragon Mars Mission
Elon Musk Publishes Mars Colonization Plan
SpaceX Appears to Have Pulled the Plug on its Red Dragon Plans

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  • (Score: 1, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 21 2017, @08:32AM (2 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 21 2017, @08:32AM (#556928)

    NASA, especially since Challenger, has very stringent safety and bureaucratic requirements. The propulsive landings had a mountain of beaucrazy to overcome due to this. Last I read the capsules will actually still have the hardware required for a propulsive landing (the super draco thrusters in particular) but won't be allowed to use them to actually land. So cost of the hardware itself definitely wasn't the issue.

    And for Red Dragon, that capsule has never been the desired means of getting things to Mars. But SpaceX were aiming for an incredibly aggressive 2018 timeline which meant that the desired means (the ITS []) would not yet be ready. So enter Red Dragon which would be quite the money shot.

    As they're pushing their date back and no longer using the propulsive landings on Earth (which would provide the expertise to make a landing on Mars that much more likely to succeed) I think it's unsurprising to see them scrap it altogether and instead focus on the ITS. More information should be available next month at the IAC Conference [] where Musk will be providing further details on the development and progress towards Mars.

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  • (Score: 2) by turgid on Monday August 21 2017, @09:15AM (1 child)

    by turgid (4318) Subscriber Badge on Monday August 21 2017, @09:15AM (#556939) Journal

    If it were me developing the dragon, I'd test the propulsive landing capability by doing a test of the thrusters at high-ish altitude over the sea before deploying the parachutes and splashing down. Of course the problem with that is you'd have to have the extra fuel aboard which is expensive in terms of weight and there's probably a safety risk when starting up a rocket engine. I also imagine it could be bad for the landing if two on the same side failed, because the capsule would tip over and then you might have trouble deploying the parachutes. Any rocket surgeons care to comment?

    • (Score: 1, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 21 2017, @02:49PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 21 2017, @02:49PM (#557047)

      That's the thing. Since they're working with NASA they have to play by NASA's progress inhibiting rules. There's certainly a distant chance that somehow such a thrust could in turn ignite the parachute or line to it resulting in catastrophic failure - so it's a no go. NASA is absolutely critical for the future of space, but mostly because of their resources both intellectual and economic. In terms of their desirability as a customer, they rank pretty much near the bottom - though the higher costs their conditions require probably at least in part compensates for this.