This Is How SpaceX Plans To Land On Mars

What the Dragon capsule would look like on Mars. SpaceX.

SpaceX has made no secret of its desire to get humans to Mars, and in a series of images released this week it was revealed how they might do it.

These new artist's impressions released by SpaceX show how they might re-purpose their existing Dragon capsule to land on Mars. Dragon has only flown unmanned so far, but the other day SpaceX revealed what the manned variant would look like inside in a series of stylish images. Based on these latest renderings, SpaceX is planning to use the same basic Dragon design to land on Mars.

The mission will use the existing Dragon spacecraft design. SpaceX.

Last week, researchers discussed a proposal to use a Dragon capsule in this configuration to return samples from the surface of the Red Planet, launching as early as 2022. The mission, dubbed Red Dragon, would see an unmanned capsule land on the surface and pick up samples before returning to Earth – the first time samples would have ever been returned. These images appear to show how that might be done.

The Martian atmosphere can be a bit of a pain. SpaceX.

Landing on Mars isn't easy, though. The atmosphere is thin, which is both a hindrance and a blessing. When landing on Earth, spacecraft need a powerful heat shield to deflect enough heat away during re-entry, but usefully the atmosphere also greatly reduces the speed of the incoming spacecraft. On Mars, the atmosphere is thick enough that it will destroy an unprotected spacecraft, but too thin to slow a sizeable spacecraft significantly.

The first landings will be unmanned. SpaceX.

For earlier landers on Mars, NASA relied on air bags to “bounce” across the surface. These landers were light, though, and the later Curiosity rover required a new rocket landing system to safely touch down, as it was too heavy for the air bag technique. To land their Red Dragon, SpaceX have several thrusters on the side of the capsule that will slow it down after passing through the atmosphere, letting it touch down on the surface.

Dragon has thrusters on the side for a controlled landing. SpaceX.

At the moment, SpaceX is in the process of developing its Falcon Heavy rocket – a giant launcher they will use for future missions to Mars, both unmanned and manned. While NASA is working on its own mission, Elon Musk is thought to have something in mind for SpaceX using this rocket. Coined the Mars Colonial Transporter, more details are expected this year.

Elon Musk has said previously that Dragon was always designed with Mars landings in mind. When they will occur is anyone's guess at the moment. But, as evidenced by these renderings, it's good to know it's on their minds.

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