A dragon is landing on Mars—yes, you read that right.
According to today’s announcement, SpaceX plans to send its Red Dragon spacecraft to Mars as early as 2018.
The company isn’t saying much regarding how many spacecraft will end up on the Red Planet, but they hinted about a series of Dragon missions, promising more details soon. In a tweet, the company indicated that the capsules would fly on SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket, which will launch the capsules to the planet to test out how to land heavy payloads on Mars.
Planning to send Dragon to Mars as soon as 2018. Red Dragons will inform overall Mars architecture, details to come pic.twitter.com/u4nbVUNCpA
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) April 27, 2016
This would be a huge achievement for Elon Musk’s company, and make SpaceX the first private spaceflight company to land a vehicle on another planet.
The Red Dragon is a modified version of the spacecraft that SpaceX uses to transport cargo to and from the International Space Station. It’s equipped with eight SuperDraco engines that allow the capsule to land on solid ground, a technique known as a propulsive landing, which allow a more controlled landing. This could be an efficient way to get large amounts of hardware down to the surface of Mars—something NASA still hasn’t quite figured out.
Figuring out the landing technique is important, but it’s just part of what is needed to start a Mars colony.
The company will also need to develop an interplanetary transport vehicle, surface habitats, life support systems, and more (like, a lot more). However, if SpaceX meets their 2018 deadline, it suggests the company may be farther along than even NASA at putting people on the Red Planet.
Musk has said that he will reveal the full extent of his Mars colonization plan this September at the International Aeronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico.