SpaceX, technology entrepreneur Elon Musk’s rocket company, has announced it plans to send a unmanned capsule to Mars by 2018.
The company, which broke Boeing-Lockheed’s monopoly on military space launches by winning a $83 million contract from the US Air Force on Wednesday, unveiled its plans for the Mars mission on Twitter.
Planning to send Dragon to Mars as soon as 2018. Red Dragons will inform overall Mars architecture, details to come pic.twitter.com/u4nbVUNCpA— SpaceX (@SpaceX) April 27, 2016
Musk, who has said in the past that SpaceX’s long-term goal is to colonise Mars, tweeted that the Dragon 2 capsule is “designed to be able to land anywhere in the solar system” and the “Red Dragon Mars mission is the first test flight”.
Dragon 2 is designed to be able to land anywhere in the solar system. Red Dragon Mars mission is the first test flight.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 27, 2016
The entrepreneur, who is also known for his role in Tesla Motors, has spoken of transporting people to the Red Planet by the mid-2020s. However, he tweeted that the Dragon 2 capsule would not be suitable for transporting astronauts beyond the moon because its internal volume is less than the space within a SUV.
Musk said the Dragon 2’s propulsive landing system had recently been tested at a facility in Texas and tweeted video of the test.
Recently tested Dragon 2’s SuperDraco propulsive landing system at our McGregor, TX facility. Key for Mars landing pic.twitter.com/dV1nhKDMhr— SpaceX (@SpaceX) April 27, 2016
SpaceX plans to send the Dragon capsule to Mars in 2018 and land it on the surface about six months later, The New York Times reported. Mars and Earth line up once every 26 months.
Nasa too plans to send people to Mars by the mid-2030s.
Shortly after SpaceX made its announcement on Wednesday, Nasa’s deputy administrator Dava J Newman wrote: “We are closer than ever before to sending American astronauts to Mars than anyone, anywhere, at any time has ever been. A new consensus is emerging around Nasa’s plan and timetable for sending astronauts to the Red Planet in the 2030s.”
She added: “Among the many exciting things we’re doing with American businesses, we’re particularly excited about an upcoming SpaceX 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 SpaceX, Nasa will offer technical support for the firm’s plan to attempt to land an uncrewed Dragon 2 spacecraft on Mars.”
Watch | Video of SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft