SpaceX unveiled its next generation spacecraft, Dragon V2, in a press conference overnight, and it’s full of promise! The re-usable capsule is designed to carry up to seven passengers, and can be configured to re-task passenger space as cargo space when needed. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk stated that Dragon V2 will make its first manned voyage by the end of 2016. In regular flight service, the craft is expected to go 10 launches without needing a major tune-up, and even then, only the heat shield is expected to need service and repair.
One of the reasons that Dragon V2 will endure so long is that it can land on solid ground, without parachutes, and, SpaceX says, with the accuracy of a helicopter. The capsule uses eight SuperDraco thrusters (each of which offers 16,000 lbf of force) to slow itself down and make a controlled landing. The SuperDraco engines are 3D printed from a superalloy, and they use hypergolic liquid rocket fuel, which can be stored at room temperature, and ignites spontaneously when the two component liquids come into contact: no ignitor needed. Though the component liquids are both quite toxic, the waste products of their combination will be water, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide. The SuperDraco engines are about 200 times more powerful than the Draco engines currently in use on the Dragon spacecraft.
These engines also represent a huge improvement in safe response to emergencies. For example if the Dragon V2 encounters a problem during launch, it can use its thrusters to abort a take-off at any time during ascent and land safely. It can land safely, even with two of its thrusters out of commission, and it also has a backup parachute in case it needs to make an emergency splashdown.
Musk says NASA and other customers can hire a launch of the Dragon V2 for as little as $20 million. He adds that their goal is to make spaceflight so affordable that hundreds, if not thousands of spacecraft are hurtling into space daily.