SpaceX: Red Dragon Mission to Mars Pushed Back

Last year, SpaceX announced a bold plan to launch its Red Dragon spacecraft to Mars as soon as 2018 — in what would be the first ever private mission to the Red Planet. But now it looks like the company is pushing back the mission by a couple years. SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell confirmed that SpaceX is now targeting the year 2020 for the Mars trip. The move will allow them to focus on other projects that are just as ambitious. The planned launch would be the first ever private mission to Mars.

In a pre-launch conference in Cape Canaveral, Florida, Shotwell said they were focused on launching next year, “but we felt like we needed to put more resources and focus more heavily on our crew program and our Falcon Heavy program.” This is why they are looking at a 2020 timeframe instead.

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The Red Dragon mission will be the testing phase of the equipment to be used on the surface of Mars. Many spacecraft managed to land on the red planet, but many also failed like the European Space Agency's (ESA) Schiaparelli lander for the ExoMars mission. The lander crashed in October last year.

The Red Dragon is targeted to study how can scientists from institutions like SpaceX and NASA land heavy equipment on the surface of Mars. Based on previous explorations, it was found out that Mars has a very thin atmosphere compared to Earth, which actually affects the impact of bringing down objects.

If SpaceX does end up launching in 2020, there’s going to be a lot of traffic on Mars around that time. NASA’s next Mars rover is supposed to launch in 2020, as well as the rover for the ExoMars mission — a joint project between Roscosmos and the European Space Agency to look for signs of life on the planet. The United Arab Emirates plans to send an orbiter to Mars in 2020 as well. Even China has expressed a goal of reaching Mars by the end of the decade.