Private Mars landing mission set to beat SpaceX

Mr. Mueller said the capsule’s size and shape would be the same as those for the InSight mission. “It’s like using the same type of heat shield materials, exactly the same parachute design,” he said. “So we’re only using what NASA has already extensively analyzed and proven on every mission of this size that has successfully gone to Mars.”

The lander would be about the same size as InSight but lighter, Mueller said. The basic configuration wouldn’t even include solar panels and wouldn’t work for long, only until the batteries ran out.

Mr. Mueller said Impulse began discussions this year with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, which manages the InSight mission.

However, a spokesman for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory said there hasn’t been much work between the lab and Impulse yet. “It appears we’ve had some preliminary discussions with Impulse on this,” spokesman Andrew Good said. “But although they have tried to meet with us this year, that meeting has not yet taken place.”

Director of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, Eric Ianson, said through a spokeswoman at the agency’s headquarters that NASA had no direct communications with Impulse and that it had no insight into the specifics of what the company was up to.

Relativity isn’t the only private space company announcing planetary exploration missions.

In 2020, Rocket Lab said it planned to send a small ship in 2023 that would fly past Venus and drop a probe to see if there might be signs of life in the dense atmosphere. It also has a modest NASA contract to launch two small orbiters to Mars as early as 2024. But Rocket Lab already has 25 successful launches of its small electron rocket and last month it sent CAPSTONE, another small NASA-funded mission, towards the moon. (It’s supposed to get there in November).

A few years ago, SpaceX also had modest plans for Mars, which it later abandoned.

In 2016, the company announced that a version of its Crew Dragon astronaut capsule — with no human passengers on board — would travel to the surface of Mars as early as 2018. In 2017, SpaceX canceled these plans, dubbed Red Dragon, after changing the capsule design to land in the ocean instead of using rocket engines to land on land. (Water landings don’t work on Mars, where there is no running water.)

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