Elon Musk discusses new SpaceX plans for landing on Mars and expectations about Falcon Heavy

Today at the International Space Station Research and Development Conference in Washington, DC, Elon Musk announced SpaceX has dropped the use of SuperDraco thrusters for its Dragon spacecraft. The initial idea, announced on April last year, was to use the thrusters and landing legs to perform a propulsive landing on Martian soil. As shown in the video below, the company has gone as far as performing a "picture-perfect propulsive hover test" of the system, as it has described the episode, in November last year.

Unfortunately, Musk stated that “it would have taken a tremendous amount of effort to qualify that for safety, particularly for crew transport", which is one of the reasons why the next generation Dragon capsules won't feature the thrusters. The other reason would be that SpaceX has figured out a better approach for landing on Mars, even though Musk didn't detail it further.

But Dragon's landing system isn't the only change happening in SpaceX's plans. Musk has also announced that the Interplanetary Transport System (ITS), announced in September last year, has "evolved", including a decrease in the size of the vehicle. One of the reasons for the changes was the estimated price for the initial version of the ship:

It’s evolved quite a bit since the last talk. The key thing that I’ve figured out is how to pay for this whole system to go to Mars. It’s super expensive.

Even though Musk didn't show a new render of the ITS, he did hint at what to expect from the new version and its capabilities:

You make it capable of doing Earth orbit activity as well as Mars activity. Maybe we can pay for it by using it for Earth orbit activity. That’s one of the key elements of the new architecture.

Finally, with the approach of the first launch of a Falcon Heavy rocket, which is expected to take place later this year, Musk warned that "there’s a lot that could go wrong there". With three booster cores, instead of just one as in a Falcon rocket, the Falcon Heavy will feature 27 engines that should ignite simultaneously:

There’s a lot of risk associated with the Falcon Heavy. There’s a real good chance that vehicle does not make it to orbit. I want to make sure and set expectations accordingly.

Either way, Musk has encouraged people to go to Cape Canaveral to watch the first Falcon Heavy mission, which he said is "guaranteed to be exciting".

Sources: SpaceNews and The Verge | Image: SpaceX

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