Scroll down to read this post.


I am now in the final week of my July fund-raising campaign for Behind the Black, celebrating its 14th anniversary. Thank you all, from the people who have donated small amounts to those who have given large sums. I cannot truly express how much your support means to me.


The support of my readers through the years has given me the freedom and ability to analyze objectively the ongoing renaissance in space, as well as the cultural changes -- for good or ill -- that are happening across America. Four years ago, just before the 2020 election I wrote that Joe Biden's mental health was suspect. Only in the past two weeks has the mainstream media decided to recognize that basic fact.


Fourteen years ago I wrote that SLS and Orion were a bad ideas, a waste of money, would be years behind schedule, and better replaced by commercial private enterprise. Even today NASA and Congress refuses to recognize this reality.


In 2020 when the world panicked over COVID I wrote that the panic was unnecessary, that the virus was apparently simply a variation of the flu, that masks were not simply pointless but if worn incorrectly were a health threat, that the lockdowns were a disaster and did nothing to stop the spread of COVID. Only in the past year have some of our so-called experts in the health field have begun to recognize these facts.


Your help allows me to do this kind of intelligent analysis. I take no advertising or sponsors, so my reporting isn't influenced by donations by established space or drug companies. Instead, I rely entirely on donations and subscriptions from my readers, which gives me the freedom to write what I think, unencumbered by outside influences.


Please consider supporting my work here at Behind the Black.


You can support me either by giving a one-time contribution or a regular subscription. There are five ways of doing so:


1. Zelle: This is the only internet method that charges no fees. All you have to do is use the Zelle link at your internet bank and give my name and email address (zimmerman at nasw dot org). What you donate is what I get.


2. Patreon: Go to my website there and pick one of five monthly subscription amounts, or by making a one-time donation.

3. A Paypal Donation:

4. A Paypal subscription:

5. Donate by check, payable to Robert Zimmerman and mailed to
Behind The Black
c/o Robert Zimmerman
P.O.Box 1262
Cortaro, AZ 85652


You can also support me by buying one of my books, as noted in the boxes interspersed throughout the webpage or shown in the menu above. And if you buy the books through the ebookit links, I get a larger cut and I get it sooner.

NASA guesses SpaceX’s Dragon-Mars mission will cost $300 million

At a meeting of NASA’s Advisory Council yesterday a NASA official estimated that SpaceX will probably spend about $300 million on its Dragon mission to Mars.

Asked by the committee how much SpaceX was spending, Reuter indicated that the company’s investment was 10 times that of NASA. “They did talk to us about a 10-to-1 arrangement in terms of cost: theirs 10, ours 1,” he said. “I think that’s in the ballpark.” Given NASA’s investment, that implies SpaceX is spending around $300 million on Red Dragon.

SpaceX has not disclosed its estimated cost of the mission, or how it will pay for it. “I have no knowledge” of how the company is financing the mission, Reuter said when asked by the committee.

I suspect that the guess is significantly wrong. NASA is providing $32 million. SpaceX plans to charge customers $90 million for a single Falcon Heavy launch, which means its cost for that launch is likely half that, say $45 million. That adds up to $77 million. The cost for a Dragon capsule is not even close to $223 million, which is what remains if NASA’s guess is right, which based on this rough estimate I seriously doubt. I would bet that a single Dragon probably costs far less than $20 million. Remember, they are nothing more than basic manned capsules, and SpaceX is building enough of them to almost have an assembly line going.

So, let’s round up and say that the cost for the mission is really about $100 million (including NASA’s contribution). Other costs, such as the staff to run the mission for at least a year, will increase this cost, but not enough to bring the total to NASA’s guess of $300 million. I suspect that SpaceX will not spend anything close to $100 million of its own money for this Dragon mission to Mars.

All in all, this amount of investment seems reasonable, based on the scale of costs in the launch industry. And SpaceX’s willingness to invest some of its own money for this mission is probably wise. In publicity alone it is priceless.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.


The print edition can be purchased at Amazon. Or you can buy it directly from the author and get an autographed copy.

The ebook is available everywhere for $5.99 (before discount) at amazon, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit. If you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and the author gets a bigger cut much sooner.

The audiobook is also available at all these vendors, and is also free with a 30-day trial membership to Audible.

"Not simply about one mission, [Genesis] is also the history of America's quest for the moon... Zimmerman has done a masterful job of tying disparate events together into a solid account of one of America's greatest human triumphs."--San Antonio Express-News


  • DREngel

    I think he will land one on the moon first

  • Kirk

    I thought that the $90 million Falcon Heavy is for up to 8.0 M/T to GTO, which allows recovery of all three boosters (2 RTLS + 1 ASDS), and that a Red Dragon mission would use a FH in its fully expendable mode.

  • Kirk: You might be right, but even so, the additional cost of losing all three first stages will not bring the cost up that much more. However, if they need to launch two Falcon Heavies to provide the additional fuel and upper stage to send Dragon to Mars, then, yes, that could explain the $300 million estimate.

    However, a Dragon capsule does not weigh 50 tons. I suspect that there should be plenty of fuel available in the upper stage to send the capsule to Mars.

  • We wouldn’t be having this conversation ten years ago.

  • Nick P


    Is that you Paul?

  • J Fincannon

    I don’t think they would have costed things the way you outlined. NASA would use cost models which are usually based on historical data. Then there are knobs for schedule and include probability distributions.

  • J Fincannon: I agree. NASA here based its guess on its past cost models. Those models however have little to do with how SpaceX and Elon Musk calculate costs, which I expect is more along the lines of how I did it. Which is also why I think NASA’s guess is high.

  • ken anthony

    SpaceX website says FH can put 13600 kg to mars orbit and that is before F9 was upgraded from 13 to 20+ tons. Dragon 2 has dry mass of 6400 kg w/ payload of 6000 kg.

    Therefor a single launch without refueling could put a fully loaded Dragon in mars orbit. The price for this (not cost which is lower) was stated at $150m years ago and should be about the same today.

  • Edward

    There is certainly some amount of development cost on SpaceX’s part. The cost estimate may include previous expenditures spent to figure out what it would take to put a Red Dragon on Mars. One method that the article mentions is “supersonic retropropulsion,” and some controls will have to be developed to perform this, and something will have to record and report on the performance and results. SpaceX would be smart to send and test additional hardware and processes that would be needed to get people there, depending upon weight limitations.

    As someone pointed out, a few months back, SETI had a talk two years ago on the topic, suggesting that SpaceX and NASA’s Ames Research Center have been pondering this concept for a few years: (1 hour)

    The article mentions that the Red Dragon is going to be reduced in weight, or as phrased: “Much of the capsule’s interior will be stripped out, including displays and environmental controls not needed for the mission. The unpressurized trunk section attached to the capsule will have ‘more substantial’ modifications, he said, primarily in the form of solar array placement and thermal controls.”

    SpaceX may be hoping to spend less than $300 million, but they may be willing to go that high by the time all is designed and flown (said and done?).

Readers: the rules for commenting!


No registration is required. I welcome all opinions, even those that strongly criticize my commentary.


However, name-calling and obscenities will not be tolerated. First time offenders who are new to the site will be warned. Second time offenders or first time offenders who have been here awhile will be suspended for a week. After that, I will ban you. Period.


Note also that first time commenters as well as any comment with more than one link will be placed in moderation for my approval. Be patient, I will get to it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *