Here’s a bold plan to get a sample retrieval mission from Mars by 2018. The plan would be to use a Falcon Heavy and a modified Dragon capsule. The thinking is the Dragon’s draco thrusters could be used for a powered Mars landing. The Mars ascent would then be a two-stage ‘return rocket’ where the samples get picked up by another Dragon mission. The timing is crazily ambitious, but due to orbits is the best plan, otherwise the best back-up Earth/Mars positions would be 2022.
Here’s an outline of the mission stages. Many kerbals died to bring us this information…
It’s a nice overall higher-level goal to drive a few things forward.
They have immediate goals for Falcon Heavy, which getting that rated and reliable will be a huge step - that’s 53 tonnes into orbit and the biggest thing since Saturn V (other than Nasa’s Space Launch System SLS, which always seems further away).
The Dragon capsule is due to have to be man-rated anyway even if this mission profile doesn’t use people, and the capsule dual use of the ‘abort thrusters’ or ‘landing thrusters’ is clever I think. Not sure about turning it into a convertible to fire a return rocket from it though - that seems unique.
If for nothing else they might just make an impressive new crater on Mars. Plus they can claim to have a Tesla charging station up there too.
Whoa. This suddenly connected some dots for me; I’ve had several friends in Aerospace Engineering at NC State the last few years who’ve been participating in competitions to design a sample retrieval and self-launching two-stage rocket system for a theoretical Mars mission; it was funded by a collaboration between NASA and “private industry.” Now we know who and why…
Cool. The Dragon could land about 2 tons on Mars and the return rocket would be about 16 feet high, as a two stage. Is that the sort of thing they were working on @Navynuke99? I guess it would be a solid fuel too?