Everything You Need to Know About the New SpaceX Dragon V2

By Jesus Diaz on at

The new SpaceX Dragon V2 seems to be an amazing machine, capable of transporting seven astronauts to orbit and then soft-land anywhere on Earth using thrusters and retractile legs—with the accuracy of an helicopter. Elon Musk claims that they will be able to refuel it and launch it again right away.

Live coverage (in reverse chronological)

11:35PM ET. That's all for tonight, folks. I'm excited to see this technology in action. Hopefully we will have more technical details soon. Good night!

11:34PM ET. Here's the entire presentation. Jump to the 4:12 mark to watch the animation:

11:14PM ET. I'm uploading the animation now, but here are some images that show how the ship works.

Legs deployed, the Dragon V2 approaches its landing site. Elon stressed that this spaceship can land on any runway on Earth. I can't wait to see it in action.

SuperDraco thrusters slowing the descent.

Dragon V2 during reentry, using their third-generation heat shield.

Inside, four astronauts on the front, three on the back.

The ISS with the two type of Dragons docked.

Dragon V2 docking with the ISS, with its nose cone open. Judging from the rendering, SpaceX will keep operating the original Dragon to ferry material to and from the ISS.

The astronauts in front of the four-screen glass cockpit, in a configuration similar to what you can see in modern airplane cockpits. There's a central physical control panel.

The solar panels that power the electrical systems are on the skin of the trunk, which is a surprising configuration. The panels on the first Dragon were deployed separately. The trunk seems to be empty in the animation—I wonder if it could be used to carry depressurized cargo like the original Dragon. Notice how the nose cone opens on approach to the ISS for docking.

10:59PM ET. A few notes:

  • The interior is not completed yet. You are looking at the bare structure. There will be padding everywhere and other things too, I'm sure (although the animation doesn't show too much detail.
  • Elon insisted that Dragon V2 will be able to be refueled and launched again without delay. I would be amazed if they can pull that (I've no reason to doubt it, given their track record, but it will be hard.)
  • Apparently the third generation heat shield would be able to endure multiple re-entries. That wasn't completely clear in the presentation.
  • No word on first test date yet. Looking at the state of the interior, I think we are still far away from first launch, but I may be mistaken. The controls and the avionics seem to be there, but many other things seem to be pending.
  • Elon also showed their new titanium fuel tanks for the Draco and SuperDraco thrusters. Here's an image of the new tank next to a Draco thruster.

10:50PM ET. Check out the retractile legs of the spaceship. Small and sturdy. Again, pure simplicity. Telescopic too! It really feels futuristic.

10:47PM ET. Here's a photo of Elon opening the Dragon V2's hatch. The entire thing looks so polished! I saw the space shuttle up close again on Tuesday and, looking at Dragon V2, it feels like it should have never existed (as much as I love it.)

10:37PM ET. Well. that was fast. The event is over.

10:35PM ET. The interior is cool too. Really spartan and simple. Look at all that big glass! I love how big and streamlined it is.

Look at that hatch. The design looks so sleek—like a Tesla car.

10:33PM ET. Dragon V2 will be able to be fully reloaded and launched again right after landing, he claims.

10:31PM ET. Elon is explaining that Dragon V2 will retain the parachutes in case of emergency, but he says it will be able to land with its SuperDraco thrusters even if three engines fail.

10:28PM ET
. Wow, this thing is really cool and slick.

10:25PM ET. Elon is on stage.

He says that when they designed Dragon 1 they still didn't have a lot of ideas about what they could do. He claims that now they know: Dragon V2 will be able to carry seven people and soft-land with thrusters anywhere in the planet with helicopter accuracy!

10:11PM ET. Dragon V2 is so cool that it has transported the entire event into the future using exotic matter distilled from Elon Musk's gonads. Hopefully we will get to the future soon and watch the webcast.

10:02PM ET. It's time. Not Elon Musk yet.

9:58PM ET. We're just two minutes away.

Previous coverage (in chronological order).

This is a detail of the seat. On the top, part of a control panel and two cockpit glass, the screens where the onboard computers display flight information.

Elon Musk will officially present the new capsule starting at 7PM Pacific Time.

3:00PM ET. Here's the last test for the SuperDraco thruster, which just completed qualification testing. This engine "will power the Dragon spacecraft's launch escape system and enable the vehicle to land propulsively on Earth or another planet with pinpoint accuracy."

The SuperDraco is an advanced version of the Draco engines currently used by SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft to maneuver in orbit and during re-entry. SuperDracos will be used on the crew version of the Dragon spacecraft as part of the vehicle's launch escape system; they will also enable propulsive landing on land. Each SuperDraco produces 16,000 pounds of thrust and can be restarted multiple times if necessary. In addition, the engines have the ability to deep throttle, providing astronauts with precise control and enormous power.

3:05PM ET. This is the updated Dragon logo used in their invitation to the presentation event.

3:10PM ET. This is how the current Dragon—which is used to ferry materials to and back from the International Space Station—looks now.

Nobody knows if the external design would change, but the interior design will change for sure to accommodate up to seven astronauts—as many as the space shuttle. Here's an image of NASA astronauts demonstrating how they would fit inside.

3:15PM ET. This is not Dragon V2, but it may be Dragon V3. Lots of good speculation about the far future of SpaceX here.

3:16PM ET. There's speculation that the next generations of Dragon may look radically different from the current one, as hinted by Elon Musk himself. Keep in mind that future versions of the manned Dragon capsule are supposed to soft land like a sci-fi spaceship, using the SuperDraco thrusters to guide the capsule and extending its legs to lag on solid land.

3:26PM ET. You can see how soft landing works looking at their Grasshopper prototype and the Falcon 9R. Here is F9R's latest flight test, which reached one kilometre into the atmosphere to come back down and land.

And this is Grasshopper:

3:28PM ET. By the way, anyone knows what the code around the invitation means. Is it some kind of morse code? Any commenter knows morse or can figure out its meaning?

3:33PM ET. This conceptual video by SpaceX shows their vision of reusable everything, from rocket stages that come to soft land on Earth to the Dragon capsules.

4:00PM ET. SpaceX has just published a new view of the capsule. This time it's part of the cockpit glass and a control panel.

5:04PM ET. This really looks very slick. The panel seems to offer mission time, a timer, alarms panel, power overrides and resets, chutes release, trunk release and emergency. On the sides there's some cockpit glass panels. On the left there's part of the avionics soft displays. On the right you can see some of the controls, including what it seems like a camera view showing the exterior view.

5:08PM ET. Less than five hours now for the unveil at 10PM ET/8PM PT.

5:11PM ET. One explanation for the circles around the dragon:

That's the STORRM retro-reflector "installed on ISS during the STS-131 mission in May 2010:

STORRM (Sensor Test for Orion RelNav Risk Mitigation) represents a new sensor technology that will make it easier and safer for future (commercial) servicing spacecraft to rendezvous and dock to the ISS (International Space Station). The DTO (Development Test Objective) of this next generation navigation system is to advance the capability necessary for automated rendezvous and docking (determine shapes, intensity, and distance); the goal is to provide data from as far away as 5 km - three times the range of the current Shuttle navigation sensor.

Maybe there's some relation and the circles and lines around the Dragon logo are an indicator of the docking abilities of the new Dragon V2 capsule.

5:21PM ET. Knowing Elon Musk, it seems that the presentation today will be pretty big, maybe as big as the Tesla Model X reveal?

5:34PM ET. More on that logo, from a NASA Space Flight forum member:

5:40PM ET. Another NASA Space Flight forum member got a simpler explanation: It may be an stylized Dragon V2 capsule from the front. Here it is a comparison with the Dragon V1 to give you an idea:

5:44PM ET. And here's another clever thing: If you do do a shadows & highlights in Photoshop you can see the seats reflection on the glass:

7:08PM ET. So much for the mysterious logo: A NASA Space Flight forum member found out that it's just a Shutterstock vector image. Boo.