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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