SpaceX Announces Mars Mission in 2018
Planning to send Dragon to Mars as soon as 2018. Red Dragons will inform overall Mars architecture, details to come pic.twitter.com/u4nbVUNCpA— SpaceX (@SpaceX) April 27, 2016
The Dragon spacecraft has been in the testing stage for a while now, and SpaceX previously estimated that it would be ready for its first mission by 2020, so it looks like they defied even their own expectations. The "Red Dragon" refers to both the mission and a modified version of the spacecraft, which will be specialized for Mars lander missions. It will consist of a Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV), an Earth Return Vehicle (ERV), and hardware to transfer a previously collected Mars sample to the ERV. As a result, the Red Dragon will provide a low-cost means for NASA to return a Mars sample back to Earth.
Dragon 2 is designed to be able to land anywhere in the solar system. Red Dragon Mars mission is the first test flight.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 27, 2016
According to previous statements from SpaceX, the Red Dragon mission will have several scientific objectives, including establishing the origin and composition of ground ice and analyzing it in order to understand Mars' climate. But most exciting, the mission will aim to assess Mars' habitability for humans and search for biosignatures of current or ancient life forms.