Planets

Red Dragon: SpaceX Targets 2018 for First Mars Mission

SpaceX plans to send an unmanned Dragon capsule to Mars as early as 2018.

SpaceX Targets 2018 for First Mars Mission

SpaceX plans to send an unmanned Dragon capsule to Mars as early as 2018, the company said Wednesday.

Ultimately, SpaceX, founded and run by technology entrepreneur Elon Musk, plans to fly people to and from Mars.

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"Planning to send Dragon to Mars as soon as 2018," SpaceX posted on Twitter.

SpaceX currently flies Dragon cargo ships to the International Space Station for NASA. It is developing a crewed version of Dragon to fly astronauts as well, with test flights of the new capsule planned for 2017. The company calls its planned Mars ships "Red Dragons."

"Dragon 2 is designed to be able to land anywhere in the solar system. Red Dragon Mars mission is the first test flight," Musk wrote on Twitter.

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The company plans to debut a heavy-lift version of its Falcon rocket, which will be needed to dispatch Dragon capsules to Mars, before the end of the year.

Musk previously said that details of SpaceX's Mars initiative will be unveiled at the annual International Astronautical Congress in September.

Artist’s impression of the SpaceX Dragon capsule on the surface of Mars.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, with the Dragon spacecraft onboard, launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., on March 1, 2013. The launch was the second SpaceX Commercial Resupply Services mission for NASA. After delivering its bounty of fresh food, supplies and experiments to the orbiting outpost, the Dragon capsule completed its mission when it splashed down off the Baja California coast on March 26, 2013. Here's a photo diary of some of the Dragon's voyage to low-Earth orbit and back.

A view of the approching SpaceX Dragon capsule over a backdrop of Earth before the spacecraft berthed with the station on March 3, 2013.

A view of the approching SpaceX Dragon capsule over a backdrop of Earth before the spacecraft berthed with the station on March 3, 2013.

The space station's robotic arm reaches out to grab the approaching SpaceX Dragon capsule that is loaded with fresh food and other cargo for the orbiting outpost's crew.

A close-up shot of the SpaceX Dragon's berthing point that the space station's robotic arm uses as an attachment to pull the spacecraft in.

The space station's robotic arm guides the SpaceX Dragon capsule during berthing operations on March 3, 2013.

A photo out of a cupola window of the SpaceX Dragon being berthed by the space station's robotic arm shortly after capture on March 3, 2013.

The space station's robotic arm slowly inches the SpaceX Dragon capsule closer to the orbiting outpost's Unity module.

The docked SpaceX Dragon capsule hangs above the Earth shortly after berthing operations.

A view of the SpaceX Dragon capsule attached to the space station's Unity module.

A photo out of a cupola window of the docked SpaceX Dragon and Space Station Remote Manipulator System or Canadarm2 robotic arm.

Inside the International Space Station's Cupola, Expedition 34 Flight Engineer Tom Marshburn assists fellow crew members during capture and docking operations.

Expedition 34 Commander Kevin Ford looks up toward the arriving SpaceX Dragon spacecraft during capture and docking operations.

Inside the International Space Station's Cupola, Expedition 34 Flight Engineer Tom Marshburn assists fellow crew members (out of frame) during capture and docking operations with the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft on March 3, 2013.

Fresh fruit, along with other food and supplies, arrived aboard the unmanned spacecraft on March 3, 2013. Here, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield eats some of the produce.

From foreground to aft, Expedition 34 Flight Engineers Tom Marshburn of NASA and Roman Romanenko and Evgeny Tarelkin of Roscosmos can't hide their delight over the arrival of fresh food and supplies that were delivered by the SpaceX Dragon.

Expedition 34 Flight Engineer Chris Hadfield of the Canadian Space Agency juggles some tomatoes that were delivered by the SpaceX Dragon capsule on March 3, 2013.

NASA TV screengrab of the space station's robotic arm releasing the SpaceX Dragon capsule before reentry on March 26, 2013.

Artist's impression of the SpaceX Dragon capsule reentering the Earth's atmosphere.

The Dragon's three parachutes are spotted by SpaceX recovery ships shortly before splashdown on March 26, 2013.