SpaceX’s New Dragon

SpaceX’s New Dragon

With its successful mission to the International Space Station in 2012, SpaceX’s Dragon is the first commercial vessel to deliver a payload into space. It is also the only craft in existence, commercial or otherwise, that is currently capable of returning a significant payload to Earth.



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Launched from a Falcon 9 booster, the Dragon extensively uses composite materials to increase its structural strength and decrease the weight, making it more efficient. It uses 18 Draco thrusters, which have been designed to be dual-redundant: Any two can fail without endangering the ship. During reentry into the atmosphere, the capsule is protected by a PICA-X heat shield. Although it has not been tested this extensively yet, SpaceX claims that this heat shield will be effective even at the kind of velocities that might be expected during reentry from a mission to the Moon or even to Mars.

Future Development

There are two different branches of future development of the Dragon. The first, Dragon Rider, is intended to meet NASA’s goal of commercial crew transportation. Once completed, it will be capable of transporting seven crew members or a combination of crew and cargo. The target launch price is $20,000,000 per crew member taken to the ISS, which is less than a third the cost of the only current crew transport (Soyuz, which costs about $63,000,000 per crew member launched). Dragon Rider is projected to be test-ready in two to three years.

The other proposed improvement is Red Dragon. This would be a low-cost, unmanned Mars lander with the stated goal of searching for signs of life and drilling underground to sample Martian subsurface ice. Although SpaceX has a proposed launch date of 2018 for Red Dragon, NASA has not yet agreed to collaborate on this mission.


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