SpaceX CEO Elon Musk revealed the upgraded Dragon V2 spacecraft tonight and instantly made space travel something to capture the imagination of a generation in a way that hasn’t happened since the original NASA Mercury missions. At the SpaceX manufacturing complex in Hawthorne, California, Musk dropped the veil on the upgraded Dragon V2 cargo ship which is now designed to ferry seven astronauts back and forth between the International Space Station.
SpaceX fills the void left by the final flight of the Space Shuttle program in 2011, which occurred as a result of President Bush’s 2004 decision to the end the 30 year shuttle program. The program did receive a two flight extension under the Obama administration, followed by massive cuts in jobs and budgets for NASA.
Since Space Shuttle Atlantis landed for the last time in 2011, the ISS has been fully dependent on the private company SpaceX and the original Dragon cargo capsule to deliver food and other supplies. With mounting tensions between Russia and the US over Ukraine, NASA’s dependence on the Soyuz vehicles to send and retrieve astronauts may now be a thing of the past as our own Robin Wirth reported earlier.
The new Dragon V2 looks like it was taken from an episode of Star Trek with its extremely sleek and polished exterior and interior. According to Jesus Diaz of Gizmodo, who was at the reveal in SpaceX’s Hawthorne manufacturing plant, “The entire thing looks so polished! I saw the space shuttle up close again the other day and, looking at this, it feels like it should have never existed (as much as I love it).”
The Dragon V2 has an exciting array of new features, one of which safety engineers at NASA are sure to take note of. The new SuperDraco Engine built into the new Dragon V2, which Business Insider examined, is an abort engine that will allow the crew capsule to detach from the main rocket in the event of an emergency.
What makes the SuperDraco different from traditional escape systems is that they are normally detached after the first few moments of launch. The SuperDraco is built into the side walls of the new Dragon V2, allowing them to be “reused on future launches.” The thrusters on the Dragon V2 also provide the ability for the Dragon to land back on earth or “another planet with pinpoint accuracy,” according to SpaceX.
Another added benefit to the new SpaceX capsule is the crew space for seven astronauts. The Russian Soyuz capsules only seat three in its current configuration.
Complete with retractable legs on the bottom of the capsule for landing and take off, the new Dragon V2 looks as if it were transported from the future. The Dragon V2 has an aesthetic appeal, as well as a sense of functional practicality.
No testing dates for the new SpaceX Dragon V2 were announced at the event, and CEO Elon Musk did not have any hints as to when the capsule would begin full testing. The NASA Commercial Crew Transportation Capability program’s goal is to have a method of transportation to fly crew members to the ISS by 2017.