Space Tech of the Week: Dragon

What is it?: "The SpaceX Dragon is a proposed conventional blunt-cone ballistic capsule spacecraft, capable of carrying seven people or a mixture of personnel and cargo, to and from low Earth orbit. The capsule is being developed by SpaceX. The Dragon capsule will be launched atop a Falcon 9 vehicle."

The Dragon will have both manned and unmanned versions of the vehicle and in its manned version it will be able to carry up to 7 passengers.

"The Dragon capsule is comprised of 3 main elements: the Nosecone, which protects the vessel and the docking adaptor during ascent; the Pressurized Section, which houses the crew and/or pressurized cargo; and the Service Section, which contains avionics, the RCS system, parachutes, and other support infrastructure.

In addition an unpressurized trunk is included, which provides for the stowage of unpressurized cargo and will support Dragon’s solar arrays and thermal radiators."

"To ensure a rapid transition from cargo to crew capability, the cargo and crew configurations of Dragon are almost identical, with the exception of the crew escape system, the life support system and onboard controls that allow the crew to take over control from the flight computer when needed. This focus on commonality minimizes the design effort and simplifies the human rating process, allowing systems critical to Dragon crew safety and ISS safety to be fully tested on uncrewed demonstration flights.

For cargo launches the inside of the capsule is outfitted with a modular cargo rack system designed to accommodate pressurized cargo in standard sizes and form factors. For crewed launches, the interior is outfitted with crew couches, controls with manual override capability and upgraded life-support."

To protect its reentry into Earth's atmosphere it uses a Phenolic impregnated carbon ablator (PICA) heat shield. PICA was developed at NASA Ames Research Center and was the primary heat shield material used for the Stardust space craft.

The vehicle is designed to have lifting re-entry in order to achieve landing precision and low-g's for its crew. It is designed for a water landing and ocean recovery after a slow descent using parachutes.

The Dragon spacecraft project was initiated internally by SpaceX in 2005 and then was submitted as part of SpaceX's proposal for NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program on March 3, 2006. COTS purpose is for commercially delivering cargo and crew to the International Space Station. In late December 2008 NASA awarded an ISS cargo delivery contract to SpaceX which calls for a minimum of 20,000 kg of cargo over up to 12 flights to ISS at a cost of $1.6 billion. In the contract there are options to increase the value of the contract to up to $3.1 billion. Included among these options is a crew capable Dragon capsule.


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