SpaceX is teasing plans to send robotic Red Dragon capsules to Mars atop its Falcon Heavy rocket, starting as soon as 2018.
The Red Dragon mission concept has been on the agenda for years: Researchers at NASA’s Ames Research Center have talked about using a modified SpaceX Dragon capsule to grab samples from Mars and bring them back to Earth. Others see the Red Dragon as part of an advanced search for life on the Red Planet.
In the past, actually executing the concept was dependent on funding from NASA. But now it looks as if SpaceX may go ahead with a mission –and put up the money – under the terms of an unfunded Space Act Agreement with NASA. The space agency and SpaceX signed off on a Mars-centric amendment to that agreement just this week.
In a series of tweets sent out today, SpaceX and its billionaire founder, Elon Musk, said the Red Dragon flights would inform the company’s overall architecture for Mars missions. “Details to come,” SpaceX said.