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SpaceX may have canceled Red Dragon Mars mission

SpaceX may have canceled its mission to Mars with a Red Dragon capsule that was set for 2020.

Company Chief Executive Elon Musk retweeted a story late Friday afternoon titled “SpaceX skipping Red Dragon for ‘vastly bigger ships’ on Mars” that was published on Tesla enthusiasts blog Teslarati.

The news comes after Musk said Wednesday that the Hawthorne space company was no longer planning to land its Dragon 2 space capsule using rocket thrusters. The Dragon 2 capsule, which in this case would fly without a crew, was the centerpiece of SpaceX’s Red Dragon mission.

During an on-stage conversation at the International Space Station Research and Development Conference in Washington, D.C., Musk said that while the capsule is still technically capable of powered landings, it would have to touch down on a “pretty soft landing pad” because SpaceX deleted the legs that pop out of the Dragon 2’s heat shield.

Musk said the Dragon approach to landing on Mars was “no longer in line with what we were confident was the optimal way of landing on Mars.” Later that day, he replied to a journalist’s tweet, saying, “Plan is to do powered landings on Mars for sure, but with a vastly bigger ship.”

It was unclear whether SpaceX is already working on this larger ship or whether the decision would push back a Mars mission launch date.

Though Musk never mentioned the Red Dragon mission during Wednesday’s speech, reports speculated that the change on Dragon indicated that mission could be canceled.

The Red Dragon mission was intended to demonstrate a way to land large payloads on the Red Planet without using parachutes or other aerodynamic decelerators.

The capsule was set to be launched by SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket, which is scheduled to make its first flight this year. NASA was set to provide SpaceX with technical support for the mission and was interested in SpaceX’s entry, landing and descent data.

samantha.masunaga@latimes.com

Twitter: @smasunaga

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