Elon Musk-led SpaceX seems ahead in Mars hype with Musk repeatedly sounding out his preparations for the Mars colonization plans. But the latest news says SpaceX may be in for a surprise by Virgin Orbit as the first space company to hit Mars without any help from NASA.

Musk’s latest Texas presentation in September showcased the prototype of the Starship cluster of spacecraft and rockets for Mars landing and other projects. 

Thie new twist follows the recent plans of Virgin Orbit, the company founded by Sir Richard Branson, who owns Virgin Galactic aviation company.

The road map of Orbit suggests reaching Mars before SpaceX, although the latter’s plans are highlighted as frequently as the works of Bruno Mars.    

Virgin Orbit has promised to “design and carry out the world's first dedicated commercial small satellite mission to Mars.”

Virgin Orbit's LauncherOne to be unique

Reports said the Virgin Orbit’s mission banking on an alliance with some polish start-ups and will fly on Virgin Orbit's LauncherOne rocket that will take off from a modified Boeing 747-400 rocket midair. 

LauncherOne with a payload capacity of 500 kilograms to low earth orbit can push a maximum 100 kg payload for a Mars mission.

Mars orbit would boost Virgin Orbit’s standing. If it places a satellite in orbit it could become an exclusive vendor of Martian images that cannot be bought from any other source and create a new market for space services.

SpaceX Mars lander plan delayed

SpaceX has been in business since 2002 and was launching rockets for a decade. It is also running many NASA related projects. But it is yet to place its first satellite on orbit. SpaceX promised to launch a spaceship to Mars in 2018. 

Now Musk is saying he has pushed that deadline to a 2021-to-2023 timeframe, per Space X news. The CEO has turned his attention to Moon projects for the short term downplaying Mars plans. 

Virgin’s Polish alliance 

In October, Virgin announced a partnership with “a dozen Polish universities” and Polish satellite company SatRevolution.

The Virgin-led consortium will launch three separate Mars missions in the next three years ie, 2022. Likely, the timeline will be ahead or nearly coincide with SpaceX's unmanned Mars mission plan if it does not shift the launch yet again.   (L-R) NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, SpaceX founder Elon Musk, and astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken speaking during a news conference at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California on October 10, 2019 (L-R) NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, SpaceX founder Elon Musk, and astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken speaking during a news conference at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California on October 10, 2019 Photo: www.philippachecophoto.com / Philip Pacheco

Virgin says its spacecraft will be used for a broad range of explorations. In principle, it will be similar to NASA Mars rovers and will compile imagery of Mars, moon Phobos, and study the Martian atmosphere and look for reservoirs of water on the Red Planet.

Meanwhile, a former NASA scientist said the agency had evidence of life on Mars way back in July 1976. But NASA ignored own data on Martian microbes. According to the former principal investigator, Gilbert Levin in 1976, NASA’s Viking landers indeed found evidence of microbes on Mars.