SpaceX has pushed back the date for launching its unmanned Red Dragon spacecraft to Mars, according to a report from Engadget‘s Mariella Moon.
SpaceX had originally planned on launching Red Dragon in 2022, but then boldly pushed the date up in April of 2016, announcing they hoped the craft would be ready to launch in 2018. Now it appears they have had to adjust their schedule yet again. SpaceX now plans to launch Red Dragon in 2020.
“SpaceX is still relentlessly gunning for Mars, but the company has admitted that the current plans for its first unmanned flight might be a tad too ambitious,” Moon writes. “SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell has revealed that its robotic Martian lander called Red Dragon won’t be ready in 2018 like the company wanted.”
Of course sending an unmanned spacecraft — or any spacecraft — to Mars is a complicated process. However, SpaceX has proven in the past that it is capable of taking on monumental tasks. In fact, SpaceX has already achieved things in the realm of space travel that no other company before has been able to do.
“Dragon made history in 2012 when it became the first commercial spacecraft in history to deliver cargo to the International Space Station and safely return cargo to Earth, a feat previously achieved only by governments,” reads the page on the Dragon spacecraft on the official SpaceX website.
SpaceX continues to send Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station. They launched another Falcon 9 carrying a Dragon on Sunday.
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) February 19, 2017
The Red Dragon that SpaceX intends to send to Mars is part of the company’s same Dragon series of “free-flying spacecraft” that make deliveries to the International Space Station. SpaceX uses the Falcon, a two-stage rocket the company designed and manufactured, to launch Dragon spacecraft into space so that they can deliver goods and equipment to resupply the International Space Station.
To launch the Red Dragon into space and on its way to Mars, the company has designed the much more powerful Falcon Heavy rocket. SpaceX plans to launch a Falcon Heavy rocket for the first time later this year.
“When Falcon Heavy lifts off in 2017, it will be the most powerful operational rocket in the world by a factor of two,” SpaceX boasts on its website. “With the ability to lift into orbit over 54 metric tons (119,000 lb) — a mass equivalent to a 737 jetliner loaded with passengers, crew, luggage and fuel — Falcon Heavy can lift more than twice the payload of the next closest operational vehicle, the Delta IV Heavy, at one-third the cost. Falcon Heavy draws upon the proven heritage and reliability of Falcon 9.”
— @stroclaudio (@RosmiNow) July 28, 2016
The Red Dragon’s trip to Mars will be the beginning of what SpaceX and its founder and CEO, Elon Musk, hope will ultimately result in human colonization of the Red Planet. As Space.com previously reported, SpaceX unveiled plans to colonize Mars back in 2016, and the Falcon Heavy will play a major role in those plans.
“SpaceX aims to help establish a permanent, self-sustaining city on the Red Planet using the company’s proposed Interplanetary Transport System (ITS), which will pair the most powerful rocket ever built with a big, crew-carrying spaceship,” Space.com‘s Mike Wall reported at the time.
SpaceX’s Mars colonization plans are even more ambitious than they may first seem. While the company believes it can launch the initial phases of colonization at the cost of about $10 billion per colonist (seats will be expensive), it hopes it can lower that number substantially and ultimately transport up to 1 million people to Mars within the next 50 to 100 years.
That would make for a good sized colony, to say the least.
But first, SpaceX has to prove it can get the Red Dragon to Mars. It looks like we’ll know the answer to that question within the next few years.
[Featured Image by Joe Raedle/Getty Images]