ArsTechnica is reporting that SpaceX is mulling the possibility of sending not just one but two Red Dragon landers to Mars in 2020. The theory is that the challenges of landing such a heavy vehicle on the Martian surface are so great that a little redundancy would be in order. If the first landing attempt fails, then it would provide enough data for the second try to be successful.

Red Dragon to Mars

When Elon Musk, the CEO of SpaceX, announced that he would send a Mars lander version of his Dragon spacecraft to Mars, he caused rare excitement in planetary science and aerospace circles.

No private organization had every before attempted to send a probe to the Red Planet. NASA was particularly intrigued and promised unspecified support as well as the contribution of instruments. SpaceX will likely ask various universities and other private groups for ideas of what to include on the Red Dragon Mars lander.

SpaceX had originally intended for the Red Dragon to depart Earth in 2018. However, the company recently announced a delay until 2020. If all goes as planned, two Falcon Heavy rockets will launch eight ton Red Dragons to Mars. The landing of such a heavy vehicle, even though it will expend two tons of fuel by firing retro rockets, would be the most challenging attempt in history.

By comparison, the Mars Curiosity, currently the heaviest object to have landed on the Red Planet, weighs but 900 kilograms.

The Red Dragon, which Musk intends to launch to Mars every 26 months when the Earth to Mars transit window opens, constitutes just the beginning of the SpaceX CEO’s ambitions. Musk has suggested that he might be ready to land people on Mars by about 2024-25, a full ten years or more than NASA envisions its Journey to Mars to come to a conclusion with astronaut boots on the Martian soil.

Building a settlement on the Red Planet

Musk’s ultimate ambition is to found a settlement on Mars and move there himself. He once suggested wryly that he would like to die on the Red Planet, “But not on impact.” Recently, during a conference in Mexico, Musk rolled out how he plans to accomplish the first community of humans to live on another world.

Musk envisions launching gigantic rockets capable of carrying a hundred people across the 100 million miles between Earth and Mars along with everything they need to survive on the Red Planet. The Mars settlers would be a self-sustaining city on the Red Planet, using as many local materials as can be found for buildings, consumables, and the other necessities of life. Eventually, a million people would live on Mars, making the human race a multi-planet species.