In 2012, SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft became the first privately-owned spacecraft to take cargo to the International Space Station and safely return to Earth. It’s made three cargo trips to the ISS since then. Yesterday, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk unveiled the second version of their Dragon spacecraft while wearing a crushed velvet jacket (as one does).
The Dragon V2 can carry up to seven astronauts to space and back, compared to the Russian Soyuz which can only carry three and the previous Dragon which carried only cargo. Dragon V2 can autonomously dock with the ISS, unlike the current version which requires the station’s giant robot arm to move it. Dragon V2 should be able to carry over 13,000 lbs (6,000 kg) to space and bring back over 6,500 lbs (3,000 kg) of cargo, with manned flights planned to start in two or three years.
The craft’s SuperDraco engines are especially awesome. As long as six out of the eight are working, the Dragon V2 is reportedly “able to land anywhere on earth with the accuracy of a helicopter,” says Elon Musk. Gizmag explains these 3D-printed engines:
The capsule has eight SuperDraco engines, which are 200 times more powerful than the Draco engines used on the current Dragon. Putting out 16,400 lb of thrust each, the SuperDraco engines will allow the new Dragon, when fully developed, to return to its spaceport and make a powered landing. However, Musk points out that Dragon V2 still carries a parachute.
If Dragon V2 lands normally (instead of splashdown with the parachutes), it can be refueled and launched immediately. That puts it at a great advantage over the Russian Soyuz, which has been the craft of reluctant choice for NASA lately. Speaking of which, Russia’s war in the Ukraine may have something to do with NASA backing away from using Russia’s space program, so SpaceX’s announcement came at a perfect time. Bad Astronomy summarizes:
By coincidence — probably — this big reveal from SpaceX happens literally the day news comes down that NASA has bought what may be the last tickets it will purchase for seats on a Russian Soyuz rocket. Rising prices and increasingly difficult relations with Russia are behind this, and the tickets are good through late 2017, when it’s expected private companies like SpaceX (as well as Boeing and Colorado’s own Sierra Nevada) will start taking humans into space again.
Just as an amusing sidenote, here’s the Dragon V2’s logo and a picture from SpaceX’s Twitter feed:
Before you start trying to analyze the secret message in the logo, here’s the funny part. It’s a stock photo:
Here’s the reveal from last evening’s livestream. Come for the animation of the spacecraft in action. Stay for the crushed velvet dinner jacket. So luxurious.
Full 18-minute video available over at Bad Astronomy.