Red Dragon (spacecraft)

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Red Dragon
Dragon to Mars (21424800115).jpg
Concept art of a Dragon V2 landing on Mars
Operator SpaceX
Major contractors SpaceX
Mission type Lander demonstrator; optional sample return
Launch date 2018 (Planned)[1]
Launch vehicle Falcon Heavy
Current destination Mars
Mass 6.5 tonnes (14,000 lb) plus 1 tonne payload[2][needs update]

Red Dragon is a planned unmanned SpaceX Dragon capsule for low-cost Mars lander missions to be launched using Falcon Heavy rockets. These Mars missions will also be pathfinders for the much larger SpaceX Mars colonization architecture that will be announced in September 2016.[3]

Proposed uses call for a sample return Mars rover to be delivered to the Martian surface while also testing techniques to enter the Martian atmosphere with equipment a human crew could eventually use.[4][2]

The idea, conceived in 2011, was to propose it for funding in 2013 and 2015 as the United States NASA Discovery mission #13 for launch in 2022,[5][6][7] but it was not submitted. On 27 April 2016 SpaceX announced that they will be going forward with the uncrewed mission for a 2018 launch[8] and NASA will be providing technical support.[9]

Original proposal

NASA's Ames Research Center worked with the private spaceflight firm SpaceX to produce a feasibility study for a mission that would search for evidence of life on Mars (biosignatures), past or present.[4][2][10] SpaceX's Dragon capsule is used to ferry cargo, and is planned to carry astronauts to and from the International Space Station in the future; the proposal called to modify it so it could transport payload to Mars,[4] land using retrorockets, and to become a precursor to a human mission to Mars.[6][7]

The concept, called Red Dragon, is a modified 3.6-meter (12 ft) diameter Dragon module, with a mass of 6.5 tonnes (14,000 lb) and an interior volume of 7 cubic metres (250 cu ft) for up to 1 tonne (2,200 lb) of Mars-landed payload.[10] The instruments would drill about 1.0 metre (3.3 ft) under ground to sample reservoirs of water ice known to exist in the shallow subsurface. The mission cost was projected in 2011 to be less than US$400 million,[6] plus $150 million to $190 million for a launch vehicle and lander.[2][7] As of April 2016, SpaceX is planning the first Falcon Heavy rocket launch for November 2016,[11] and Dragon V2 is scheduled to undergo flight tests in 2016 and 2017.[12]


The goals, as originally proposed by NASA's Ames Research Center are:

Scientific goals[2]
  • Search for evidence of life (biosignatures), past or present
  • Assess subsurface habitability
  • Establish the origin, distribution, and composition of ground ice
  • Understand past climate using ground ice record
Human precursor goals[2]
  • Conduct human-relevant entry, descent and landing (EDL) demonstrations
  • Assess potential hazards in dust, regolith, and ground ice
  • Characterize natural resources
  • Demonstrate access to subsurface resources
  • Conduct in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) demonstration: water extraction and propellant production

Landing demonstrator mission

On 27 April 2016, SpaceX announced its plan to go ahead and launch a modified Dragon lander to Mars by 2018. This project is part of a public-private partnership contract between NASA and SpaceX.[13] NASA expects to spend "on the order of $30 million" helping SpaceX send the capsule to Mars.[14] In exchange for Martian entry, descent, and landing data from SpaceX, NASA will offer technical support.[9][13] More details are expected in September 2016.[3]

Landing system

Because of its design, a modified Dragon V2 capsule may perform all the necessary entry, descent and landing (EDL) functions in order to deliver payloads of 1 tonne (2,200 lb) or more to the Martian surface without using a parachute; the use of parachutes is not feasible without significant vehicle modifications.[2] It is calculated that the capsule's own aerodynamic drag may slow it sufficiently for the remainder of descent to be within the capability of the SuperDraco retro-propulsion thrusters.[4] 1900 kg of propellant would provide the Δv required for soft landing.[15] This approach should make it possible to land the capsule at much higher Martian elevations than could be done if a parachute was used, and with 10 km (6.2 mi) landing accuracy.[10] The engineering team continues developing options for payload integration with the Dragon capsule.[7] Potential landing sites would be polar or mid-latitude sites with proven near-surface ice.[2]

Sample return

A study of a potential 2021 Red Dragon mission suggested that it could offer a low-cost way for NASA to achieve a Mars sample return for study. The Red Dragon capsule would be equipped with the system needed to return samples gathered on Mars, including a Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV), an Earth Return Vehicle (ERV), and hardware to transfer a sample collected in a previously landed rover mission, such as NASA's planned Mars 2020 rover, to the ERV.[4][16] ERV would transfer the samples to high Earth orbit, where a separate future mission would pick up the samples and de-orbit to Earth.[4]

See also


  1. "SpaceX Is Sending a Red Dragon Spacecraft to Mars in 2018". 27 April 2016. Retrieved 27 April 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 "Red Dragon" (PDF), Feasibility of a Dragon-derived Mars lander for scientific and human-precursor investigations (PDF)|format= requires |url= (help),, October 31, 2011, retrieved 14 May 2012<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 Cowing, Keith (28 April 2016). "SpaceX Will Start Going to Mars in 2018". SpaceRef. Retrieved 2016-04-28.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 David, Leonard (7 March 2014). "Project 'Red Dragon': Mars Sample-Return Mission Could Launch in 2022 with SpaceX Capsule". Retrieved 8 March 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Spacex Dragon lander could land on Mars with a mission under the NASA Discovery Program cost cap. 20 June 2014.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Wall, Mike (July 31, 2011). "'Red Dragon' Mission Mulled as Cheap Search for Mars Life". Retrieved 1 May 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 "NASA ADVISORY COUNCIL (NAC) - Science Committee Report" (PDF). Ames Research Center, NASA. 1 November 2011. Retrieved 1 May 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. @SpaceX (April 27, 2016). "Planning to send Dragon to Mars as soon as 2018. Red Dragons will inform overall Mars architecture, details to come" (Tweet) – via Twitter.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. 9.0 9.1 Newmann, Dava. "Exploring Together". NASA Official Blog. Retrieved 27 April 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 E. Sklyanskiy, M. R. Grover; A. D. Steltzner & Sherwood (February 2012). "RED DRAGON-MSL HYBRID LANDING ARCHITECTURE FOR 2018" (PDF). Jet Propulsion Laboratory. NASA. Retrieved 4 July 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. "Clear November in your diary: SpaceX teases first Falcon Heavy liftoff". The Register. 2016-03-11. Retrieved 2016-04-09.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Grossman, Lisa (28 April 2016). "SpaceX claims it can get to Mars by 2018 – what are its chances?". New Scientist. Retrieved 2016-04-28.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. 13.0 13.1 Drake, Nadia (April 27, 2016). "SpaceX Plans to Send Spacecraft to Mars in 2018". National Geographic News. Retrieved 2016-04-28.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. "NASA Outlines Mars 'Red Dragon' Deal With SpaceX". AviationWeek. Retrieved 14 May 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Red Dragon-MSL Hybrid Landing Architecture for 2018 Concepts and Approaches for Mars Exploration, held June 12–14, 2012 in Houston, Texas. LPI Contribution No. 1679, id.4216
  16. Wall, Mike (10 September 2015). "'Red Dragon' Mars Sample-Return Mission Could Launch by 2022". Retrieved 2015-09-20.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links