NASA’s Cost for SpaceX Dragon Mission to Mars: $30 Million

Red Dragon landing on Mars (Credit: SpaceX)
Red Dragon landing on Mars (Credit: SpaceX)

Aviation Week report’s on NASA’s contribution to SpaceX’s plan to land a Dragon spacecraft on Mars:

NASA expects to spend “on the order of $30 million” helping SpaceX send a modified Dragon vehicle to the surface of Mars in the 2018 planetary launch window, but the entry, descent and landing (EDL) data alone it may obtain in return would be a bargain at 10 times the price.

Officials believe an amendment to NASA’s unfunded Space Act Agreement (SAA) with the ambitious spaceflight company could someday help the agency land heavy payloads on Mars using supersonic retropropulsion. NASA already is using infrared photography to study the technique on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 first-stage landings.

Expanding that work to Mars with onboard cameras, sensors—and perhaps even imagery collected from below by one of the two NASA rovers operating on the planet—would be extremely useful to engineers at the space agency who are trying to figure out how to land 20-ton payloads there.

“If we had a complete stand-alone technology demonstration mission, it would be an order of magnitude larger than this [in cost],” says Phil McAlister, director of commercial spaceflight development at NASA headquarters.

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  • Michael Vaicaitis

    2018 is going to be exciting , especially for NASA. FH sending Dragon to Mars and providing NASA with Mars EDL data for $30 million, and SLS EM-1 send Orion around the Moon to provide NASA with something or other for $? billion.

  • James

    Heh and that’s not counting the tens of billion in SLS development.

  • ReSpaceAge

    What is this 30 million for ??
    Does spaceX get 30million cash?
    Or is this to pay for communication network?
    Or is this to pay nasa staff that will be monitoring the flight and collecting the data??

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    One presumes the cost of nasa staff and hardware (mro/maven/odyssey to relay data) allocated for working on this project. I don’t imagine they’ll be paying SpaceX any cash, but helping out with trajectory planning and such.

  • windbourne

    It would be nice to send 2 different missions to mars in 2018. Have the first one be SpaceX’s with some NASA on it, and the 2nd to be 4-6 months later and be mostly NASA. The idea is that if the first one crashes, make software adjustments. However, even better is that if the first one succeeds, the second one is observed coming down with various cameras to see how things are in the atmosphere.

    Regardless, getting one there in 2018 and hopefully proving that they can land 1-2 tonnes on the surface will be huge for missions in 2020. Perhaps at that time, we can send a number of missions there, including one to bring back material to the ISS or a Bigelow space station, FIRST.

  • PK Sink

    It’s actually called Nonreimbursable Space Act Agreement. Here’s the link…it’s pretty interesting.

  • windbourne

    I have said it over and over, that NASA provides SOOO much more than just money. All of their experience is invaluable. Their space network, their knowledge, etc.
    Nothing like it in the world.

  • PK Sink

    I agree 100%. Bigelow Beam and Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser are actual proof of what can happen when industry builds on what NASA has started.

  • Zed_WEASEL

    There is only about 6 weeks for the 2018 launch window to Mars.

    AIUI the 2018 window allows for 2+ tonnes of payload with the Red Dragon due to orbital mechanics.

    It remains to be seen if SpaceX will ONLY launch one Red Dragon during 2018. Maybe SpaceX will also put a small comsat around Mars also.

  • Paul_Scutts

    Given all the information “leaked” so far, I wonder if it would be quite logical/likely that, for monitoring, data collection and PR purposes, the modified Dragon II will probably be programmed to attempt to land “near” one of the working Mars rovers.

  • ThomasLMatula

    NASA had to postpone it existing 2018 mission. It is difficult to imagine them being able to put together a replacement soon enough to launch, so SpaceX will have the field to itself.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Yes, when NASA is in its NACA mode it does well with industry. The problem is when it tries to run programs like the SLS and ISS. That is where the money is wasted.

  • Steve Ksiazek

    NASA surely wouldn’t be using Hydrazine thrusters to land on Mars. Remember the efforts they have gone thru to not contaminate the landing site so they could collect samples. But, I suppose if there is no plan for science on this mission, they could just crash into the planet and call it job done.