The artistic impressions show SpaceX’s Dragon capsule as a spacecraft that can safely land people on Mars.
To date, Dragon has only been part of unmanned missions, however these images show the redesigned manned version as significantly updated and stylish.
The renderings show SpaceX’s plan to ultimately use their carefully designed Dragon capsule to land on the suface of Mars, something that comes as no surprise to SpaceX or Elon Musk fans.
Most recently, there have been discussions amongst researchers that propose the use of a Dragon capsule using this configuration to return samples from the Martian surface, potentially launching as soon as 2022.
The mission, code named Red Dragon, would see the unmanned capsule safely land on the surface, capturing samples and returning to Earth – this would be historic, as samples from Mars have never been returned. These images show how that could happen.
Landing on Mars certainly isn’t easy, however. It’s thin atmosphere is both a hindrance and a blessing.
When spacecrafts return to Earth, they require a powerful heat shield to deflect heat away from the craft during re-entry, however the resistance of the atmosphere also reduces the speed of the spacecraft very signifiantly.
On Mars, the atmosphere is thick enough to pose a danger to unprotected spacecraft, but it’s too thin to slow a spacecraft to an acceptable speed.
For landers that have been sent to Mars, NASA used air bags to “bounce” them across the surface for a safe landing.
In comparison to a large spacecraft, the landers are light, and the larger Curiosity rover needed a specialized rocket landing system to touch down safely, being too heavy for the air bag techique.
SpaceX has equipped their Red Dragon with several thrusters housed on the sides of the capsule that will fire to control the rate of decent as it travels through Mars’ atmosphere, allowing for a smooth and steady landing.
The development of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket, a giant launcher that will be used for both unmanned and manned missions to Mars, is presently underway.
While NASA has their own ideas for a mission to Mars, Elon Musk is thinking well down the road when it comes to SpaceX rocket design. More details on what Elon calls SpaceX’s ‘Mars Colonial Transporter’ are expected later this year.
Elon Musk has said that Dragon was always designed with explorative landings on Mars and other targets in our solar system in mind. When these will occur is a matter of time.
However, these renderings show that SpaceX always has exploration on their minds, it’s just a matter of building and proving the technology before a formal mission can be announced.
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