Elon Musk and his SpaceX announced on Facebook that their first Mars mission is planned for 2018.
Maybe most surprising news in 2016 - SpaceX is targeting for 2018 with their first unmanned Mars mission. It means that only two years separate us from the moment when first commercial company will reach Mars with their lander; it is big surprise even if we consider that Mars was always ultimate goal for SpaceX. Now it seems that they set real racing pace in commercial space exploration and Mars mission, if will be kept within schedule, will set SpaceX as world leader in space industry.
In post placed on SpaceX Facebook profile we can read:
"SpaceX is planning to send Dragons to Mars as early as 2018. Red Dragon missions will help inform the overall Mars architecture that will be unveiled later this year.
These missions will help demonstrate the technologies needed to land large payloads propulsively on Mars."
It means that at the beginning of 2018 SpaceX will be in possession of finished and tested Red Dragon spacecraft along with new Falcon Heavy rocket as launch vehicle. It is not the end; if we read more deeply this short post, we can spot that company is going to send more than one Dragon to Mars. It is even more ambitious objective and it could give reason to think, that recently work under Red Dragon and Falcon Heavy have been progressing amazingly fast.
Red Dragon is modified Dragon spacecraft used for resupply missions for International Space Station. After modifications it will be able to bring to Mars 1000 kg of payload along with Mars lander remaining still small enough (6.5 t dry mass with 3,6 m diameter) to be lifted on atop of Falcon Heavy rocket. Lander will reach Mars surface using propulsion for horizontal landing (EDL-entry, descent and landing without parachutes), gather ground samples and take off to return to Earth. At the moment it was unveiled that crucial element of lander-Superdraco propulsion- was already fired and tested in SpaceX facility in McGregor, Texas. NASA, space agency with impressive experience in Mars missions, will support mission planned for 2018 with technical support. It was confirmed in statement by Deputy Administrator Dava Newman:
"Among the many exciting things we’re doing with American businesses, we’re particularly excited about an upcoming SpaceX project that would build upon a current “no-exchange-of-funds” agreement we have with the company. In exchange for Martian entry, descent, and landing data from SpaceX, NASA will offer technical support for the firm’s plan to attempt to land an unmanned Dragon 2 spacecraft on Mars."
More details about plans of SpaceX for unmanned and manned Mars exploration will be unveiled during 67th International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico, on September 2016.