ISS R&D 2017 – Washington D.C.
Answering questions from audience members, serial tech entrepreneur Elon Musk validated a large number of SpaceX rumors by confirming that the company’s Mars update at the International Astronautical Congress in late September would demonstrate a leaner architecture. Musk noted that the team has aimed partially at improving the economic viability of the vehicle, making it more applicable and useful for Earth orbit activities. This would involve downsizing the booster and spaceship, although Musk quickly added that it would be “a little bit smaller, but still big”.
Musk also confirmed rumors that SpaceX was no longer pursuing propulsive landing for Dragon 2 (Crew Dragon). He explained that the massive amount of effort that would have been required to qualify propulsive landing of crew and cargo was a major barrier. The main reason SpaceX has moved away from it, however, is a result of the company’s engineering expertise deciding that the Dragon 2 layout was not the best solution for landing on Mars. While the question was not proffered, nor details added, this probably means that there will be no Red Dragon missions, with SpaceX instead likely pursuing the development of its smaller Mars vehicle as quickly as possible.
Unlike the mockup revealed in 2015, the operational Dragon 2 will not have extendable legs, and would thus require some sort of cushion to land without severe damage to the vehicle and its crew and cargo. This engineering decision will likely impact the updated design of SpaceX’s Mars architecture, as the Interplanetary Transport System (ITS) was intended to utilize data SpaceX was to gather from Red Dragon missions in order to understand the environment ITS would face.
With Musk still planning on presenting a Mars update at 2017’s IAC in Adelaide, Australia, there will be many more fascinating details to be had in just over two months.