Last night at a live-streamed demonstration in Hawthorne, California, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk showed off the company’s latest and maybe greatest innovation to date—the “Dragon V2”.
What makes the Dragon V2 capsule so special is that it is the first commercial astronaut ferry. Before SpaceX announced this capsule, only government assistance from NASA or the Russian space program could get astronauts consistently to and from orbit. Since the end of the US space shuttle program in 2011, US astronauts have had to rely on help from Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft for these rides, each costing around 70 million dollars per person per round trip. Ferrymen ask a high price. With the Dragon V2, SpaceX gives countries a new way to get into orbit without worldwide support.
The Dragon V2 is also a huge step forward in spacecraft technology and design. The gum drop-shaped capsule can carry seven astronauts to and from the ISS (Russia’s capsule holds three), it doesn’t have to rely on docking technology like the nimble Canadarm 2 aboard the ISS, and maybe most importantly, the Dragon V2 can land anywhere in the world with the dexterity of a helicopter.
And the innovations don’t stop there. According to Musk, the Dragon V2 can be re-fueled and ready to go almost immediately after landing, a feature that should greatly reduce the total cost of going to space. The capsule also has improved heat shielding technology that should allow it to go through multiple re-entries without significant repair or replacement.
Landing capsules will be much easier thanks to the Dragon V2. Up until now, capsules carrying astronauts used either the ocean or huge parachutes to finally stop their descent. On the Dragon V2, however, giant “SuperDraco” engines slow reentry and orient the capsule for a near-perfect landing. Each engine produces a massive 16,000 pounds of thrust (each could launch an African elephant), ensuring that astronauts returning home will no longer have to crash into the mountains of Kazakhstan.
Oh, and the engines look incredible in action too:
For much more information on the Dragon V2, head to SpaceX.com.