SpaceX may scrap plans to land Dragon spacecrafts on Mars by end of 2020s

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Sep 3, 2019, 7:15 AM EDT (Updated)

With NASA still trying to figure out how it’ll pay for plans to land humans on Mars, it seemed SpaceX could be our best option to get people up there in the next decade. Well, that may not be the case anymore — at least not on that accelerated timeline.

While speaking at the ISS R&D Conference, Musk revealed SpaceX will likely scrap plans to use propulsive landing gear (the little engines that blast out from the lower sides of the capsule) to put Dragon capsules on Mars for supply drops and eventual manned missions.

He said the company now believes there’s a better way to land there, and the company’s next round of rockets and spacecraft would reflect that. Musk, umm, didn’t actually give any details of what this figure might look like, though. Despite that, Musk later clarified they still want to use propulsive landing tech — just on much bigger ships. You know, when Musk claims Mars as the sovereign nation of Tesla, and all that. Sadly, no timeline on anything yet.

“There was a time when I thought that the Dragon approach to landing on Mars... would be the right way to land on Mars. But now I'm pretty confident that is not the right way. There's a far better approach. That's what the next generation of SpaceX rockets and spacecraft is going to do.”

Though SpaceX has been working on propulsive landing tech for a while (and it’s a key part of the emergency escape system for Dragon 2, designed to thrust the capsule away from a potential explosion), Dragon capsules have mostly been using parachutes to land back on Earth anyway. So that won’t change. The company had run into some safety concerns with adding landing legs to the Dragon 2, and it’s not clear if that also played a role in scrapping the tech for wider use on these craft, but it stands to reason it was a factor.

So what is SpaceX cooking up? Something big-ish, surely. Musk wouldn’t have dropped this news or made this decision without having a new plan in the works, and he at least seems to think this “next generation” system is a much better option. There’s also buzz Musk could update his Mars colonization plan later this year, and this could certainly be a part of that. Here’s hoping, because we really don’t want to wait another 20+ years to reach Mars.

(Via The Verge)

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