NASA may join hands with SpaceX for Red Dragon Mars rock sample mission by 2022

Mars Rover is collecting rock samples and analyzing for traces of moisture and basic components required for life. But what if we could get the rock samples to be analyzed on earth? The mission to bring back the rock samples collected by NASA’s Mars Rover to Earth could become a reality as early as 2022.

The mission is only in its conceptual stage and not an approved mission that will see the NASA’s Ames Research Center joining up with Elon Musk’s company, SpaceX for the Red Dragon project.

The project envisages sending Mars rock samples towards Earth where researchers will examine and analyze the material for signs of past life on the red planet.

The developers of the concept want to use the SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket and a modified version of the company’s robotic Dragon cargo capsule for the sample – return project.

Andy Gonzales, of NASA’s Ames Research Centre, was explaining the feasibility of the project with the space agency’s Future In-Space Operations (FISO) working group in a presentation.

Andy said that Red Dragon is technically possible by using newly emerging commercial technologies coupled with existing technologies.

Mars was not the desolate and dry place of today but was flush with water and a lot warmer and wetter billions of years ago. Evidence gathered by NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover and other spacecraft point out to this fact.

NASA is planning to set forth its next rover in a potentially habitable environment sometime in 2020, but it does not have any plans to bring back samples from the red planet back home.

Gonzales and his team said that this is exactly where Red Dragon comes to play. A modified version of the SpaceX’s uncrewed Dragon cargo is being planned to be used for this mission.

The SpaceX’s unmanned Dragon cargo has already been used to send resupplies to the International Space Station (ISS). The Red Dragon will be sent to Mars atop the huge Falcon Heavy rocket. The Falcon Heavy rocket is scheduled to fly for the first time next year.

The Red Dragon variant will feature a robotic arm, extra fuel tanks, and a central assembly which will house a rocket-powered Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV) and an Earth Return Vehicle (ERV).