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SpaceX Dragon

By Wikipedia,
the free encyclopedia,

Artist rendering of SpaceX Dragon spacecraft delivering cargo to the International Space Station.
Artist rendering of SpaceX Dragon spacecraft delivering cargo to the International Space Station.

Profiles of Dragon Cargo and Dragon Crew (NASA)
Profiles of Dragon Cargo and Dragon Crew (NASA)

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 nosecone of the vehicle has a hinged cap which opens to reveal a standard ISS Common Berthing Mechanism, which allows the Dragon to be captured by the SSRMS and berthed to the non-Russian segments of the ISS. The capsule is being developed by SpaceX, a space transportation startup company.

The Dragon capsule will be launched atop a Falcon 9 vehicle. SpaceX has built a full-sized prototype of the vehicle and "thoroughly tested" its life support system. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has stated that he plans to have the capsule enter service by 2009, about a year before the final flight of the Space Shuttle.


A Dragon capsule structural test article at the 2007 X-Prize Cup
A Dragon capsule structural test article at the 2007 X-Prize Cup
  • Both manned and unmanned versions
  • Can carry up to 7 passengers in crew configuration
  • Can carry over 2500 kg and 14 cubic meters in cargo configuration
  • 18 Draco thrusters
  • Phenolic impregnated carbon ablator (PICA) heat shield

NASA launch partnership

Dragon is part of a proposal submitted on March 3, 2006 for NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program for commercially delivering cargo and crew to the International Space Station. SpaceX's team for the COTS proposal consists of a number of companies, including MD Robotics, a Canadian company which built the International Space Station's Mobile Servicing System, a robotic arm with a mobile re-attachable base. As Dragon will feature a standard ISS Common Berthing Mechanism (CBM), Dragon will be berthed to the ISS using the Space Station's robotic arm, thus avoiding the added weight, extra cost and complexity of an on-board docking system such as APAS-89 or the LIDS.

On August 18, 2006, NASA announced that SpaceX had been chosen, along with Kistler Aerospace, to develop crew and cargo launch services for the International Space Station. The plan using SpaceX's Dragon capsule calls for demonstration flights between 2008 and 2010. SpaceX may receive up to $278 million if they meet all NASA milestones. Kistler failed to meet its obligations with NASA, and its contract was terminated in 2007.

NASA awarded a cargo delivery contract to SpaceX on 2008-12-23. The contract calls for a minimum of 20,000 kg of cargo over up to 12 flights to the International Space Station at a cost of $1.6 billion USD, with options that increase the maximum contract value to $3.1 billion.


As of December 2007, development of the Merlin 1C which would power the Falcon 9 has been completed and it is currently undergoing qualifications. Test firings of Falcon 9's first stage have been conducted.

On 2009-02-23, SpaceX announced that its chosen heat shield material, PICA-X, their variant of NASA's phenolic impregnated carbon ablator material, had passed heat stress tests in preparation for the first Dragon launch.

The first test flight of the Dragon has not yet been scheduled, but is planned to be the second use of the Falcon 9 rocket, which is currently awaiting its maiden flight.

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Published in July 2009.

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