The privately built Dragon space capsule's maiden flight to the International Space Station is just weeks away, but SpaceX and NASA already have big dreams for Dragon's next steps. In a presentation at NASA late last month, SpaceX and space agency officials discussed sending Dragon to Mars. A "Red Dragon" mission, as NASA officials have nicknamed it, would be a low-cost way to send an ice drill to look for signs of life at the Martian poles.
The relatively cheap $500 million mission could launch as soon as 2018, Nature News reports. It would include a robotic drill that would sample Martian permafrost and examine them with onboard lab equipment, like the types integrated into the forthcoming Curiosity rover.
Researchers at NASA's Ames Research Center first brought the concept to light earlier this year, but the presentation Oct. 31 was a formal discussion involving NASA's planetary science division. It's evidence that the agency is at least contemplating private space exploration, as well as private human spaceflight, in the face of tightening budgets, Nature News reports.
Aside from its relatively low cost (at least compared with other Mars missions) the Dragon capsule is equipped with retro rockets that could enable a calm, slow descent onto the Martian surface. It would not need any bouncing parachutes or hoverdrop capability, like NASA's own rover missions. It would instead fire eight motors that are already attached to the Dragon capsule in its human-transport configuration, which will help it escape its Falcon 9 heavy lift rocket in case of an aborted launch. But not everyone is convinced this will work, and others at the space agency are worried a private-transport proposal could jeopardize other planned rover missions. NASA and SpaceX are gearing up for a proposal competition in 2013.
Now this is the type of news I like to here! A private entity reaching out into space for other worlds. Now it's time to make it happen!
Such an unmanned mission will test the staged progression of Trans-Martian insertion and atmospheric entry and landing concepts that will be necessary for future manned missions. If Space X can do this without the normal inflated NASA budget it takes to pull off other unmanned missions to the red planet, this will open the opportunity to proceed forward in aerospace progression without using financial squeezes as an excuse to defer progress.
i still think a drill on titan would be better
We need the private sector to save us from NASA wasting another 40 years and $500 billion.
We already have the Commercial boosters Atlas, Delta, Falcon...
And SpaceX will launch their Falcon Heavy in 2012-2013 with over TWICE the payload of the Shuttle...
SpaceX has it's Dragon spacecraft, for manned and unmanned operations...
Yet NASA wants to blow $60+ billion taxpayer $s on unneeded Government booster (SLS) and Capsule (via Boeing)...
Von Braun argued for on-orbit assembly of modules and fuel launched with commercial boosters, but NASA bureaucracy forced the unaffordable Saturn V boosters.. which dead-ended the US manned space program 40 years ago...
We need to downsize or eliminate NASA, and instead use X-Prize type incentives for private commercial enterprise to give us the robust, affordable, efficient space program NASA has failed to provide.
"and others at the space agency are worried a private-transport proposal could jeopardize other planned rover missions."
This is what's wrong with America. Protecting personal interests and hindering progress. If there are project already in the works, just finish it. Then use the cheaper tech for future missions. With the money you're going to save, you could add more missions.
You're going to need a transport system to Mars anyways unless rovers are the only thing you're going to send to Mars for the next 10-20 years.
The purpose that NASA should serve in this day and age should be that of a public foundation where all cosmological, planetary, astronautical and aeronautical sciences are focused in funding private sector and university level research and development projects. For this I believe NASA should not be eliminated. NASA could still conduct space operations too. It just shouldn't be the sole proprietor of the manufacture and launch of space assets.
The private sector and universities are better areas for R&D because these activities can be multiplied and diversified across a greater spectrum and expanse than just one agency.
I also agree that if we are too reach out into space, NASA has to let go of its near monopolistic grip on space operations. They have and are wasting money by not progressing further than they have since the 1970s. Besides, I've always found it more feasible to orbitally construct a capital ship in orbit from a space dock, made from several modules that could support a crew of one to two dozen people, than launching a sexual inuendo from a launch pad that could only launch a pod sized capsule with a handful of people uncomfortably to an interplanetary destination. I think a lot of people in NASA are stuck on Buck Rogers, and afraid to demand sufficient money for the more logical path to interplanetary flight for fear of the "matters of terrestrial importance" rhetoric.
a drill on Europa would be the best.
The people of the world only divide into two kinds, One sort with brains who hold no religion, The other with religion and no brain.
- Abu-al-Ala al-Marri
Sigh, how life has change, when “The relatively cheap $500 million mission could launch as soon as 2018," is considered cheap, you know pocket change.
We hard working tax payers maybe annoyed to the being referred to as something cheap.
But I get it. They are not looking at it from my point of view. They are looking at it from the casual attitude of blowing trillions of dollars with no fiscal responsibility. Ok, I correct myself. From that perspective it is just pennies.
@amerimann...you got so much wrong in your comment it's rather funny, i will only point out the most obvious, the saturn5 was cancelled from a lack of public support so congress canned it, they had saturn 5's built ready to go when this occurred-@pheonix1012...i agree with most of your post but one glaring error is spacex is recieving funds and expertise from NASA because NASA wants spacex to succeed, there will always be those that protect their own interest but a collaboration between private enterprise and NASA is unstopable at this point, NASA perceived monopoly (not true) is being dismantled by NASA, for the good, cheers
Saturn V was cancelled more because of high costs, especially launch cost/kg, not to mention the high infrastructure costs.
Of course it was replaced with the Space Shuttle, which never met its stated cost/flight rate goals either and had no way to do a launch abort until 3 minutes into the flight (see: Challenger). Then there was the total stupidity of side-saddle launch, which opened up the whole foam/ice vs. thermal tile problem that caused the loss of Columbia.
Then came the nightmare that was Constellation, which proponents are still trying to resurrect in thinly modified form as the Space Launch System (Ares V) and Liberty (Ares I), while keeping many of Shuttles highest cost parts.
Yeah - the NASA planners and Congressional budgeteers did a real bang-up job :-P
Enough already - time for NewSpace to take control and create systems that can be developed economically and by people aren't afraid to start with a white sheet of paper when it makes sense.
As I follow you logic you remind me of Microsoft is to Apple as is the Government is to Microsoft. Apple has to continue so the Government does not break up Microsoft monopoly. But, I digress, enough of that distraction.
I would love to see our private sector in some way get out into space; more the better!
@pheonix what do you mean by "launch a sexual innuendo from the launch pad"?? LOL
NASA only funds Space X for COTS and CCDev, which it didn't not fund it in the first rounds of funding during the program's inception. Prior to it's inception, Space Exploration Technologies was on point with the scheduled launch manifest of its different platforms. The launch of the Falcon 1 in 2008 and the Falcon 9 in 2010 was all done prior to NASA's award contract to the company for the COTS program. NASA is giving Space X some serious attention, but I do think this company is very capable of standing on it's own.
Government entities are always subject to the sway of legislation. That explains NASA's path thus far. It went from a proverbial tool used to win the flexing contest during the Cold War era of possible nuclear world war, to a once great historical idol of yesteryear that people claim to revere yet of whose presence and existence is questioned time and again. The American people as a whole have to be more politically active and actually care about the purpose and path of NASA for it to do the once great things it did in the past and thensome.
You know what I mean. hehehe
There are 300,000,000 people in the united states...
3*10^8/5*10^8... That's about two dollars per person.
-Spouting a fountain of nonsense since 1995-
@Lord Elliot the Great
Well that's kinda the point ain't it (in a sense)? More tax dollars go to all the other services government provides than does to NASA. Approx. less than 1% GDP to be exact. So less than a peny of every American dollar funds all functions of NASA, to include orbital science, Earth science, planetary science, human spaceflight, and aerospace. Back in the 1970s 4% of GDP funded NASA. We went to the moon on that. It's not a wonder why we haven't been anywhere since 1972. The U.S. is funding affordable, not progress (in terms of NASA). NASA is trying to pull progress out of it's ass on the budget it consistently gets (which deflates as currency inflates).
It's actually going to save you money. Instead of spending billions, it's millions. And no one said it was cheap, "relatively cheap" = "cheaper" than the current cost.
And with that money saved, you can go buy yourself a burger. lol
SpaceX drilling on Mars!
!Lord Elliot the... idiot. I made a cute little rhyme.;)
Does the fact you count 300 million and I make a rhyme make what I said or what you said correct?
The reason for looking at Mars is because it can easily (comparatively) have a colony of sorts set-up there vs the others (Titan/Europa) which have harsher environments and are largely still unknown (can robots even sustain existence there long term?).
Its about getting something established in space first then reaching from there. Mars is the obvious choice (outside of the moon) as its been shown a long term human/robot Mars mission is possible!, opening up future mining and resource consent missions to the planet. Plus the planets heavy metal mineral resources are close to the surface vs deeply berried, so its ideal for setting up an automated drilling/mining facility.
Ultimately I believe Mars might be suitable for hydroponic food growing as our society starts waking up to food supply issues we face.