And the Curtain Drops; A Dragon Revealed

Taking the stage in front of a crowd of employees, customers including representatives of U.S. Government agencies as well as Robert Bigelow, Elon Musk put on his best Tony Stark and dropped the curtain tonight on the SpaceX Dragon V2. If guests or reporters were dismayed that the show started late, Musk more than made up it for by fielding questions for nearly 45 minutes afterwards in what SpaceX pr described as a “scrum.”

As for the spacecraft itself, later described as mostly comprised of flight hardware, at first impression it is not quite as “sci-fi” looking as one might have expected based on earlier comments. On the other hand it doesn’t resemble a capsule so much anymore either. One thing is for sure, it does appear quite a bit larger than the previous version, not because the pressure shell itself is bigger, it isn’t, but due to the much larger fairings which cover the 8 SuperDraco engines, arranged two at a time in an offset manner. Smaller Draco thrusters are arranged to the outside of the SuperDracos, three on each side.

The large oval windows are one of the more distinguishable features, with five in all, including one in the entry hatch itself.  Standing inside the Dragon, even with two other people inside, it is surprisingly spacious, a point astronauts aboard ISS have made about the current, cargo version of the craft, but is difficult to appreciate from a distance.

One of the more interesting changes was a bit unexpected. After previously stating the crew version of Dragon would not have solar panels, the video presented as part of the evening show depicted curved panels arrayed around the body of the trunk, which happens to be adorned with what appear to be fins. Altogether it gives the complete assembly a bit more of a spaceship like appearance than the capsule alone.

Once other surprise, in a return to a previous design, the disposable nose cap is replaced by a hinged cap protecting the crew docking adapter. Fortunately the Mickey Mouse ears (then solar panels) have remained on the cutting room floor.

Tonight’s Dragon did not have a docking adapter installed, but there is one in the factory at present.

In terms of its overall advance from the original version of Dragon, in addition to the obvious changes in the outline due to the inclusion of escape and landing thrusters, the new Dragon features what is described as a third generation heat shield, still comprised of PICA-X, but offering greatly improved protection with a much smaller regression accompanying each re-entry. According to Musk, the new shielding should last up 10 launches, marking the diving line between significant overhauls between flights. The ultimate goal is 100 missions before replacing the shield is necessary.


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5 Comments on "And the Curtain Drops; A Dragon Revealed"

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  1. Pete says:

    GREAT show! I really think Elon Musk will make us independent once again in the regime of space flight! Also a great writeup!!

  2. Brian Swiderski says:

    When you mention “Mickey Mouse ears” solar panels, I think you’re thinking of the Orion capsule. I’ve never seen any illustration of a Dragon with such a thing.

    • Stewart Money says:

      SpaceX’s orginal COTS graphics pictured the round solar panels as well.

  3. khychin says:

    I am such a space x junkie..

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