SpaceX Weighing Sending 2 Red Dragon Missions to Mars in 2020

Red Dragon enters Mars atmosphere. (Credit: SpaceX)

NASA Planetary Science Division Director Jim Green said on Tuesday that SpaceX plans to launch two Red Dragon missions to Mars during the 2020 launch window.

“Every 26 months, the highway to Mars opens up, and that highway is going to be packed. We start out at the top of that opportunity with a SpaceX launch of Red Dragon. That will be followed at the end of that opportunity with another Red Dragon. Those have been announced by SpaceX,” Green said during an appearance at the Humans to Mars Summit in Washington, DC.

The Red Dragon is a modified version of the Dragon spacecraft SpaceX uses to deliver supplies to the International Space Station. SpaceX will send these automated vehicles to the surface as a precursor to human missions it wants to fly in the 2020’s.

SpaceX has announced that it will send a Red Dragon to the surface in 2020.  However, Elon Musk’s company has said nothing publicly about a second spacecraft. Red Dragons are designed to perform automated descent, entry and landings on the martian surface.

SpaceX had planned to launch the first Red Dragon mission in 2018. However, the effort was pushed back two years due to the company’s other commitments, which include commercial cargo and crew missions for NASA and a backed up launch manifest caused, in part, by two Falcon 9 failures.

The inaugural flight test of the Falcon Heavy booster that will launch the Red Dragon spacecraft has also been delayed for more than four years. That test is currently scheduled for the third quarter of 2017.

NASA is providing about $30 million in in-kind support for the first Red Dragon flight in exchange for entry data. The space agency’s support includes trajectory analysis and tracking and communications via the Deep Space Network.


  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    I’ll start looking for a payload guide. If they want paying customers, or at least payloads made out of company, they’ll need to tell us how to integrate our payloads with a Dragon, and how much money we need to show up at the door with.

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    They need to stop thinking about Mars so they can keep focused and stay on schedule like SLS/Orion….

  • The thing is – this was his dream that got the whole thing started.

    If he thinks he can do it, he will.

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    You’ve been in the sun too long. It was sarcasm.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    That’s some top quality snark right there….

  • I got that part of it. The part I’m trying to relay is that the entire engine and rocket development program sprang out of his desire to plop a small greenhouse onto the surface of Mars. He’ll try it the second that he can.

    It may not be 2020, but it’s a personal thing with him. A goal on a checklist.

  • ReSpaceAge

    The goal was not to put a green house on Mars.
    The goal was to inspire the world/usa to give more money to NASA so they would go to Mars.

    How naive that young man was!

    I would say he inspired nasa alright.

  • Well I was around back then, and long before, and I was heavily involved in these kinds of topics, so I can split hairs on this with the best of them.

    My memory may be faulty because I was living in political exile on a small desert island at the time, and my circle of billionaire friends were not West coast types. Let’s just say they had very very different interests. So my gig was just keeping them alive on their vacations. It was hard enough on Earth, can you imagine how hard that would be on Mars? Well I did. Every hour of every day, day after day for years. But I did follow West coast billionaire developments eagerly. As I recall, once he couldn’t get NASA or the Russians to play, he decided to go it alone with Tom Mueller, but the underlying premise was launch vehicle propulsion development. Back then there was a lot of conflicting information and opinions on how this should proceed. Legacy lego toys or all new hardware. The same problem also applied to missions and I have no real insight on how he came up with this one, but likewise I can imagine how – The usenet and occasional leaks.

  • Paul_Scutts

    It would be probably a good idea, once human missions are heading towards the red planet, that they go in tandem (the crew of Apollo 13 were fortunate to have the LEM).

  • Jacob Samorodin

    And Mars is notorious for turning perfectly good spacecraft (almost perfectly good) into scrap metal; well, at least many of them that make the attempt.

  • And science and technology are notorious for continuing to progress after, in spite of, and because of, all of those crash and burn experiments and failed hypotheses. Their constant comercialization is even more remarkable.

  • useless missions

  • Aerospike

    Useless comment

  • ThomasLMatula

    Given the news of the accident with the SLS fuel tank on NASA Watch there will probably be a delay of first flight for a couple more years. So for Mars this is probably the only game in town.

    In terms of HSF, one thing I was wondering about is the old Dennis Tito flight around Mars.

    Could a flight around the Moon in the Dragon be a precursor mission for it? es, its too late for next year’s launch windows, but there are others available. A similar Mars flight by a pair of NASA astronaurts in the next few years could have the impact of Apollo 8 for NASA. Y

  • ThomasLMatula

    Its actually covered in his biography.

    Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance

    It also covers the influence Dr. Griffin had on this thinking of rockets.

  • You’ll just have to forgive me for passing on that. I’ve got a life of my own.

  • Steve Ksiazek

    Can that entry data really be worth $30 million to NASA ? Or is there someone at NASA that is just looking to give SpaceX the use of valuable resources at a almost zero cost ?

  • ThomasLMatula

    Its a good read about his plan to save humanity and fight global warming.

  • Been there, done that. I’ve even got a bunch of t-shirts to prove it.

    To address your deleted comment, I gave up those kinds of things when the usenet died. Nowadays, besides my post Sputnik Disqus comments, I prefer to speak with billionaires directly. So don’t call me. I’ll call you. Thanks.

    Anything I think you really need to know, I’ve blogged and published already.

  • Jeff2Space

    Same old “ball of sunshine” that you used to be on Usenet News.

  • That was google groups, until they banned me.

    Dragging hominids kicking and screaming into the future is hard work, and that kind of work is not for everyone.

  • Jeff2Space

    The groups were and still are Usenet Newsgroups. Google Groups is nothing more than a fancy interface to them. So, yes, you’re the same guy.

  • Then say hi to all of them for me, I know there were some standouts, but I can’t remember their names mostly, just their ideas and lovely and crazy comments. I know Pat died a while back. The last I checked it was mostly cranks and bots and essentially unreadable. Modern AJAX commenting sure has come a long way. We’re already being overrun with fake comment bots.

  • windbourne

    was it not you that suggested I just block that ‘ball of sunshine’?

  • windbourne

    actually, all planets and the moon does that.

  • windbourne

    exactly. Ideally, send a slow cargo ahead to mars and have it hit mars about a month after the crew. That way, if need be, there is a safety vessel along the way.

  • duheagle

    Show me another way NASA can get said data for less than $30 megabucks and I’ll concede you have a point. Absent that, it’s just the usual SpaceX bashing.

  • therealdmt

    They need to land large payloads on Mars for their stated goal (and Congress’ stated goal) of manned missions to Mars. Their current methods simply can’t scale up sufficiently. They pretty much need to test supersonic retro propulsion (they have no active plan to test any other method anymore) to get it done, preferably on Mars itself and with a suitably large/massive structure such as could support human missions. If you think NASA could do that for anywhere near $30 million or within anywhere near the 2020 timeframe, you haven’t been following NASA very closely…

  • Jeff2Space

    Probably. I should listen to my own advice, shouldn’t I? 😉

  • windbourne

    hey, sometimes it is funny to listen to idiots like that.
    Othertimes? meh.