SpaceX Dragon

Dragon

In May of last 2012, Dragon became the first commercial spacecraft to successfully rendezvous and connect with the International Space Station (ISS) and with that it put SpaceX firmly on the map. For those curious on how that would have looked like, check out the following link and make sure to drag your cursor around. Resupply missions aside (regular cargo flights started in October 2012), SpaceX is developing a crewed variant of the Dragon called DragonRider, which will be able to carry up to seven astronauts to and from low Earth orbit – those seven will probably be best of friends by the time they arrive as the pressurized part of the capsule is only 10 cubic metres “big” inside so it will be quite a cramped ride.

Taking the more conventional approach (unlike Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo combination), Dragon sits on top of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket for lift off. The capsule is made up of a disposable cone, the spacecraft itself housing the astronauts (or specialized cargo) and the trunk, which can carry up to 14 cubic meters of cargo. You can see the specifications here. Its second resupply mission will take place this November, but Elon Musk, SpaceX‘s billionaire founder and CEO is already looking towards the future. In March this year he gave away some details about the second version, and it won’t be your conventional capsule anymore either. The next version will have side-mounted thruster pods and pop-out legs so it can land on solid ground. More details to be unveiled later this year; no more tweets telling them to go fishing then…

For a time table of milestones to look forward to, December 2013 will see a pad abort test (in which Dragon will use its abort engines to launch away from a stationary Falcon 9 rocket – it’s one of the safety tests required), followed by an in-flight abort test coming April 2014 (same test, but this time in flight), and the first crewed Dragon (DragonRider) flight is currently scheduled to happen mid-2015. The last in a series of impressive feats will then see a crewed spacecraft dock with ISS no sooner than December 2015.

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