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NASA Mars Space Science

SpaceX Dragon As Mars Science Lander? 146

FleaPlus writes "Besides using the SpaceX Dragon capsule to deliver supplies to the ISS this year and astronauts in following years, the company wants to use Dragon as a platform for propulsively landing science payloads on Mars and other planets. Combined with their upcoming Falcon Heavy rocket, 'a single Dragon mission could land with more payload than has been delivered to Mars cumulatively in history.' According to CEO Elon Musk, SpaceX is working with NASA's Ames Research Center on a mission design concept that could launch in as early as 5-6 years."
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SpaceX Dragon As Mars Science Lander?

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  • ...The only two companies in the US worth watching today. Probably the two that will save the nation.

    • by maxume ( 22995 )

      Save it from what? Human space flight using chemical rockets will never be anything other than a novelty and one of the largest investors in Tesla is one of the big Japanese automakers (so if Tesla 'saves' the US it will only be by handing part of it over to Toyota).

      • by h4rr4r ( 612664 )

        If that is what it takes it sounds fine by me. Better than buying a made in Mexico American car brand.

      • Surely your kidding, That Toyota on the dealer lot very likely has more US made parts and sub-assemblies going into the assembly line in Flatrock MI, than any car on the planet except Tesla and Aptera.

    • I know I've likened fans of private space programs as cult-like, but you're taking it to a whole 'nother level!
    • Lawerenceville plasma physics too. You should see their progress with dense plasma focus.

    • Didn't Tesla stop making the roadster? Not that I could ever have afforded one, nonetheless a very exciting product.

      • by Teancum ( 67324 )

        There were many reasons why Tesla stopped making the Roadster, most important among them is that they were forced by the U.S. Department of Transportation to essentially redesign the whole car from scratch due to some current passenger safety requirements and issues the DOT had with the airbags supplied by Lotus for the Roadster. That Lotus also was going through a change-over with their Elise model and revamping the factory where the Roadsters chassis were built at was the icing on the cake. It gave a go

    • by Teancum ( 67324 )

      What about Armadillo Aerospace and Blue Origin? I think they are going to drop the costs of spaceflight yet another order of magnitude in terms of going into space. I could give you so others, but on the whole I'd agree those are some interesting companies.

      BTW, the most "out there" concept of a company that is at least on par with SpaceX is Bigelow Aerospace. Robert Bigelow certainly knows his stuff and is working on the details of what to do once you get back up into space and want to actually go somewh

  • 5-6 years (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Bob the Super Hamste ( 1152367 ) on Friday July 15, 2011 @11:37AM (#36775788) Homepage
    Sounds like only business issues [] are left then, right?
    • These figures should be multiplied by the factor of seriousness of the researches in the field. And this is space exploration we're talking about. That factor is huge.

  • by deadhammer ( 576762 ) on Friday July 15, 2011 @11:43AM (#36775872)
    Now this might actually be some good news, after all. With NASA out of the whole "space exploration" game (or at least it will be if the U.S. Congress has anything to say about it) maybe the fantasies about the private sector coming to save us all aren't all libertarian tripe. Looking at pics of the capsule from the article, it looks like they're abandoning the whole over-engineered spaceplane concept and sticking with an Apollo capsule/Soyuz style can filled with electronics. Cheap to build, probably easy to fix and refit for the next flight, and disposable if need be (you wouldn't get it back from Mars, for example). Maybe now that the Shuttle (expensive porkbarrel boondoggle that it was) is out of the picture, NASA can get back to engineering and R&D instead of propping up the same micromanaged bureaucrat-interfered ship for decades on a stretch. Assuming that Congress ever lets them do anything again, ever, of course.
    • The shuttle had to carry a lot of extra baggage that was only used to get it back to earth. The idea was for a re-usable ship, and the shuttle was re-usable. However it took a lot of re-fitting after each flight. The engines had to be replaced after several uses, the heat shield tiles wore out after a few flights and needed to be replaced, plus other stuff that you'd expect (tires, oil, etc). The Dragon capsule costs a lot less than the shuttle, can be re-usable, and can lift more weight to space per lb

    • The last A in NASA stands for administration. NASA is not supposed to design rockets or capsules. It is supposed to take the science and exploration goals that Congress clearly defines and make it happen. In the 60s the technology to meet the goal of flying to the moon and returning safely to earth did not exist. So NASA identified what needed to be learned and administered those tasks to many different companies. NASA employees were only a small part of the overall workforce.

      Today is different. We have no

  • Does this mean they have room for me []?

    • The Council of Elders has declared with enthuisiasm our intention to obliterate the creatures from the blue planet in person.

      "For to long have these pathetic monsters hidden in the safety of their hellish atmosphere, while their mechanical agents attacked our world," announced K'breel, speaker for the Council. "We shall have revenge for the unprovoked attacks of the past twenty-two years. Most of all we shall have revenge for the Life Day transmission."

      When a junior intelligence officer declined to comment,

      • by dpilot ( 134227 )

        Too bad their cunning plan failed because they had no immunity to our pathogens - as documented by the Wells Brothers. (Herbert George and Orson)

        • Well, at least that's better than arriving having grossly misjudging scale just to have the entire battle fleet swallowed by a small dog.

  • by Blackjax ( 98754 ) on Friday July 15, 2011 @12:00PM (#36776092)

    One of the things that is really interesting about this is that it can land on pretty nearly any solid surface in the solar system. So while a Mars mission is possible, so are moon landings, scientific payloads to Titan or other Saturnian/Jovian moons, Ceres, etc. Science missions would cost less because they would need to design/test less of the infrastructure for the mission and could instead focus simply on the science equipment itself.

  • Dragon can land with a 6,000 lb+ payload on Earth.
    So with Mars much thinner atmosphere and slightly lower gravity can the dragon land the same payload? It may need a larger parachute and or carry a lighter payload.
    And what did the Vikings weigh? I remember them being a bit large.

    • SpaceX Dragon page []: "6,000 kg (13,228 lbs) payload up-mass to LEO; 3,000 kg (6,614 lbs) payload down-mass ". Less than that to the Martian surface, I'd expect.

      Also interesting is that even being launched on the Falcon 9 rather than the Falcon Heavy, it could have gone a lot higher,: "After separation of the Dragon spacecraft, the second stage Merlin engine restarted, carrying the second stage to an altitude of 11,000 km (6,800 mi)."(SpaceX Updates [] Dec. 15, 2010) Of course the only payload of the first Drag

      • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

        That extra lift will not help increase how much it can land with by much if anything. The landing weight will be limited by the parachute and for landing on land the landing bag plus any retros. The Falcon 9 Heavy will throw the Dragon farther and maybe with some extra stuff that it doesn't land with like a small habitat or a space lab or some kind of logistics module.

  • How do you get a spacex dragon to Mars orbit in the first place?

    Are we expecting the Centauri to show up to give us jumpgate technology

    • How do you get a spacex dragon to Mars orbit in the first place?

      Using the (collosal) SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch vehicle. I know that R'ing TFM is not fashionable here, but seriously...

    • by Blackjax ( 98754 )

      The same way we've gotten every other science payload to Mars. The only difference here would be that the Falcon Heavy would be far cheaper on a per pound delivered basis than the launchers used previously.

    • by h4rr4r ( 612664 )

      Point it there. Means less payload then going to GTO.

      This is rocket science, so it is slightly more complicated than that, but for some value of works, it works.

  • Elon Musk FTFA:

    Personally, my view is that space transport overall should be much more of a private-public partnership, and that applies to heavy lift as well.

    This. Commercial spaceflight hasn't really taken off because there hasn't been a financial reason for it to. On the other hand, NASA has a massive budget that only requires a scientific, not financial, return on investment.

    The advantage is competition. With NASA having massive government resources and doing its development in-house, it ends up with inefficient designs like the shuttle, since there isn't the private sector's focus on results, or at least not since the moon landing. Its no c

  • by Entropius ( 188861 ) on Friday July 15, 2011 @12:17PM (#36776320)

    Per TFA, the Falcon Heavy has half the payload capacity (to the Moon) of a Saturn V.

    So it's a lot better than what we have now, but not as good as what we had 45 years ago. Got it.

    How does the cost of one of these things compare with a Saturn V (were one to be built today), I wonder?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Karrde45 ( 772180 )
      According to Wikipedia: "In 1969, the cost of a Saturn V including launch was US $ 185 million (inflation adjusted US$ 1.11 billion in 2011)." According to SpaceX (projections, since obviously FH hasn't flown yet): "With Falcon Heavy priced at $80-125M per launch SpaceX has the potential to provide the US government significant value" So 1/2 the performance at 1/10th the cost.
    • Well, the tools and technology to build a Saturn V are long gone (some with good riddance), but a similar vehicle in terms of lift capacity, the ARES V, was going to cost about $35 billion. A Falcon Heavy is expected to cost about $100 million. Granted that's per launch cost and not total development cost, but that's Elon's headache. Is the cost of developing your own heavy lift worth the 350 launches you could do if you bought Falcon Heavies? It has been estimated that it would cost $350 million to l
      • by Blackjax ( 98754 )

        Actually, $350 million is the optimistic side of the possible range and the issue of how the per flight costs would have played out is highly contentious. At the pessimistic end it was as high as 1.5 billion *per flight*. Nobody really knows what would have happened. Part of the problem is that there are high fixed costs that are amortized across the total number of flights. If you fly 6 times a year your per flight costs are much more moderate than if you fly once. This is part of the reason the shutt

  • If there's one thing that bugs me about NASA, it's their reluctance to reuse successful designs, in favor of starting a new (unproven) platform. I know they build "on the shoulders of the men who went before", but it seems like there's a lot of NIH in their projects.

    We've had 2 rovers on Mars that exceeded their design lifespan by an order of magnatude, and have provided a lot of useful science. Why not spend the small amount of money to manufacture a dozen more on the same design, and drop them onto mars

    • The next generation rover Curiosity is launching around the end of November 2011. It makes the existing rovers look like rc cars. Having said that, I agree that along with bigger / better Curiosity, they should have considered a half dozen Spirit clones with different science packages. Though the issue isn't the cost of the rover, but delivering it. Its not cheap. I'd rather see the funding after Curiosity put towards a sample return mission.

    • Because congress forbids it. NASA has little control over its own budget. It probably would've cost less and worked out better if they could have manufactured a few dozen identical Spirit/Opportunity rovers with a few changes to the instrument packages and drop them all in different spots around the Martian globe. But congress authorized only two. Subsequent rovers get carved up in committee. Congressman A will vote for it, but only if a favored software company in their district gets to write the co
    • by 0123456 ( 636235 )

      Heck, how would that same design function on the moon?

      Poorly. Lunar dust is a real bastard to deal with... for example, the Apollo astronauts had to keep cleaning it off the Lunar Rover so that it wouldn't overheat.

      Or on Europa?

      Not at all. There's nowhere near enough sunlight at that distance so you'd need an RTG or much larger panels.

      Why not build a 2nd hubble telescope while the JWST is still being designed?

      Presumably because someone might notice that building an entire new telescope cost less than a shuttle servicing mission?

      Not to mention abandoning the Apollo/Saturn platform for manned spaceflight)

      Saturn V was abandoned because it cost $2,000,000,000 a flight and NASA couldn't afford that. The shuttle, of course, end

    • But NASA is following your suggestion on thenew Mars Science Laboratory, but not exactly making a copy. As an example, their idea of using an RTG is better than using solar panels (to be independent of sunlight to energy) and certainly they thought about it based on experience with the Spirit.
      • You miss the GP's point. MSL is a totally different beast to the MER rovers, there's no hardware or design overlap whatsoever. And it requires a totally new, totally unique landing system because of the weight. Consequently, it's over-budget, behind schedule, and after JWST gets cancelled, it may be next on the chopping block. And they are only building one of it, not even a pair like Spirit/Opportunity. So if it does work, they'll have thrown away all that work, and all that money, on a single rover.

        (And t

    • Three reasons:
      1) NASA gets paid to do *new* things. Regardless of the science gains, sending another copy of the same rover to Mars is hard to sell to Congress. Especially since congresscritters don't understand that Olympus Mons and Hellas Basin are different places.

      2) The cost of launch vehicles is so high that there's less economy of scale gained by mass-producing space probes. Other space resources, like deep-space communications dishes and plutonium fuel, are also very limited, which forces an empha

    • If there's one thing that bugs me about NASA, it's their reluctance to reuse successful designs, in favor of starting a new (unproven) platform.

      You have a valid point but in their defense a lot of what NASA does involves things that push the frontiers of engineering and science. Often there is no successful design to work from. There is a lot of talk about the James Webb telescope in the news right now. That program pushes the boundaries of our engineering capabilities. Off the shelf isn't really an option. A lot of the value of NASA comes directly from them inventing new things. Numerous multi-billion dollar industries have come from technol

      • Often there is no successful design to work from. There is a lot of talk about the James Webb telescope in the news right now. That program pushes the boundaries of our engineering capabilities. Off the shelf isn't really an option.

        But there was a successful design, Hubble. With Webb, you've got a bunch of new technology all shoe-horned onto a single mission, if you screw up just one of them, you fail the mission. That's why the cost blew out the way it did. Why not test the flower-petal mirror trick on an up-rated Hubble-clone first? Then add the IR sensitivity to the next version. One problem per mission.

        A lot of the value of NASA comes directly from them inventing new things.

        And this is part of NASA's problem, the contradiction between research and operations. They do great research, so they try to shoe

        • by sjbe ( 173966 )

          But there was a successful design, Hubble.

          Which has run its course. Many questions scientists have cannot be answered by Hubble. It's design has limits on its optics. It can't seen well in some of the spectrums we need to look in. And it is 20+ year old technology. Things have advanced significantly since Hubble was designed.

          With Webb, you've got a bunch of new technology all shoe-horned onto a single mission, if you screw up just one of them, you fail the mission. That's why the cost blew out the way it did.

          You are aware of course that Hubble shoehorned a bunch of new technology in and came in about 2-3X over budget. You did know that right? Hubble got initial funding in the 1970s. It was supposed to launch in 1983 but was

          • And it is 20+ year old technology. Things have advanced significantly since Hubble was designed.

            Rubbish. Tube with mirrors. Everything out of date is electronic, much of which they had already updated to upgrade Hubble itself. Had they been able to try riskier upgrades on proven Hubble-clones over the last 20 years, Webb wouldn't be such a gamble. (The folding mirror gimmick was first proposed ten or fifteen years ago as a Hubble upgrade.)

            I know common sense says that building just one complex system is much quicker and cheaper than doing several partial systems and the full design. One is cheaper tha

  • Well, the summary claims it - but nowhere in the article is propulsive landing on Mars mentioned.
    Not that I believe it probable. The problem with landing heavy payloads to date has been that Mars' atmosphere is too thin to land ballistically/aerodynamically, and it's gravity too high to land propulsively. I don't see offhand that the Dragon's payload is sufficient to overcome this.

  • Does anyone know if SpaceX has published a plan for how they intend to actually land the capsule on Mars?

    Landing such a large mass on a planet with such a thin atmosphere is not a trivial engineering problem. There is not a hell of a lot of gas to brake against upon atmospheric entry, air bags become more complicated for such large masses, and get-ups similar to the sky-crane and retro-rockets tend to be expensive and complex. Has anyone heard SpaceX's idea on solving this particular problem?

    If so, co
  • Straight from the mouth of Elon Musk himself:

    But the absolute goal of SpaceX is to develop the technologies to make life multiplanetary, which means being able to transport huge volumes of people and cargo to Mars.

    Who said the U.S. doesn't have any vision for space anymore? What country is Mr. Musk developing his business in?


  • I have suspected for a while now that certain players in the private space industry is quietly interested in going to Mars.

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