Elon Musk has revealed a ton of new information about his plans for the future of space exploration. This includes his ideas for going to Mars, and the difficulty in launching a huge new rocket.
The SpaceX CEO revealed the tidbits yesterday at a typically packed talk at the ISS R&D conference in Washington DC. For starters, he said that they were no longer considering using their existing Dragon capsule to perform unmanned landings on Mars as early as 2020, known as Red Dragon.
“There was a time when I thought that the Dragon approach to landing on Mars… would be the right way to land on Mars,” he said. “But now I’m pretty confident that is not the right way. There’s a far better approach. That’s what the next generation of SpaceX rockets and spacecraft is going to do.”
While not elaborating on this approach per se, he did tweet later on that the plan was still to do powered landings, but with a “vastly bigger ship”. We don’t yet know what this would be, and whether it’s related to his broader plans to get humans to Mars with the Interplanetary Transport System (ITS).
Red Dragon was supposed to be the start of the company’s forays to Mars. SpaceX had been developing thrusters for its Dragon capsule, which is used to transport cargo to the International Space Station (ISS), so that it could perform powered landings on the ground. Currently, it uses to parachutes to drop into the ocean, requiring considerable refurbishment.
This same technology was supposedly going to be used to place a modified Dragon, Red Dragon, on the surface of Mars. That now looks unlikely.
“It was a tough decision,” he said in a Q&A session. He added that the next Dragon the company is developing would technically still have the ability to perform a powered landing, but “you’d have to land it on some pretty soft landing pad because we’ve deleted the little legs that pop out of the heat shield.”
One of the reasons for dropping this was supposedly to do with safety, as getting a human-rated spacecraft safe enough to perform powered landings could have been very difficult.
Musk drew huge crowds, as usual