At the end of May, SpaceX unveiled its Dragon Version 2 (v2), the next generation spacecraft designed to carry astronauts to Earth orbit and beyond. Set to revolutionise access to space, Dragon v2 will be capable of carrying up to seven astronauts, landing propulsively almost anywhere on Earth with the accuracy of a helicopter, and refuelling and flying again for rapid reusability.
The first of its kind, Dragon v2’s powerful launch escape system will provide escape capability from the time the crew enters the vehicle all the way to orbit. Eight SuperDraco engines built into the side walls of the Dragon spacecraft will produce up to 530 000 newtons of axial thrust to carry astronauts to safety should an emergency occur during launch.
This system also enables Dragon v2 to land propulsively on land. Paired with the fact that the spacecraft can be refuelled after landing, makes it possible to conduct multiple interplanetary trips that would otherwise be constrained by ocean landings. The result is that the cost of space travel will be drastically reduced.
With a minimal number of stage separations, all-liquid rocket engines that can be throttled and turned off in an emergency and launch escape capability all the way to orbit, Dragon v2 will be capable of delivering American astronauts to the International Space Station and beyond with incredible reliability.
Additional upgrades to Dragon v2 include a SpaceX-designed and built ISS docking adapter, impact attenuating landing legs, and a more advanced version of the PICA-X (Phenolic Impregnated Carbon Ablator-X) heat shield for improved durability and performance. Dragon v2’s robust thermal protection system is capable of lunar missions, in addition to flights to and from Earth orbit.
Dragon v2 builds on SpaceX’s track record of successfully delivering critical cargo and science experiments to the space station for Nasa. The Dragon spacecraft currently resupplies the space station under a $1.6 billion (about R17 billion) Cargo Resupply Services contract with Nasa.
Watch as Elon Musk unveils Dragon v2: