SpaceX told the international community that they plan to visit the red planet in 2018. What will they be testing and how will it assist future missions?
The first technology SpaceX plan to test is supersonic retropropulsion. In the past, when we’ve sent landers to the surface of other worlds, we’ve used parachutes to slow the module down and bring it to a bearable landing speed. Never to miss an opportunity to show off, SpaceX plan to use its upgraded SuperDraco thrusters to slow the craft down and land gently. They have the experience when it comes to landing craft, having successfully landed first stage boosters, but this will certainly be a new challenge for them. Whilst this hasn’t been attempted before, NASA have accepted that this is the best option for future missions as they will almost certainly have heavier payloads and parachutes just won’t do.
How will NASA be involved?
Whilst NASA have not officially provided any funding to assist SpaceX on a Mars mission, they have provided assistance in other ways. For instance, NASA has many experts in many different fields at their disposal, whilst SpaceX has a relatively new team and NASA have agreed to have it’s specialists and experts collaborate and help Elon Musk achieve his ambitions. They will also get use of NASA’s Deep Space Network to help communicate with anything SpaceX send. I managed to catch up with Glen Nagle from the Deep Space Network for a bit more information on how the network works and how it could assist SpaceX. NASA isn’t helping out entirely for free. They will be expecting SpaceX to share the data they collect from the mission and its tests. NASA experts think the data and experience gained from this could be critical to the success of future missions.
So what is the current timeline of planned events?
Well, NASA have repeated their aims of getting to Mars by the late 2030’s, although this is subject to a number of factors and can be brought forward or pushed back, depending on public opinion, the budget and who is in charge. SpaceX have decided that they want to do it a bit quicker and Elon publicly said that his plans begin in 2022, with intrepid explorers launching in 2024. It is, afterall, SpaceX’s ultimate goal to establish a permanent human presence on Mars SpaceX founder, Elon Musk, says that this would make humanity a multi-planetary species and insure us in case something happened to Earth.
How will we get there?
SpaceX have made much of their biggest ship yet, the Falcon Heavy, which is due to be completed and tested next year and will probably take anything SpaceX send to Mars in 2018. For manned missions, however, SpaceX intend to utilize an entirely new vehicle called the Interplanetary Transport System. Musk see’s this vehicle as key to transporting humans to other worlds and has put a lot of work into the design of this spacecraft. You can see what he thinks in the video below: