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Five totally awesome things about SpaceX's new Dragon spacecraft

By Scott Sutherland
Meteorologist/Science Writer
Monday, June 2, 2014, 3:12 PM

SpaceX CEO and Chief Designer Elon Musk unveiled the company's next-generation Dragon spacecraft on Thursday night. This new design has incorporated some awesome new features that are like a blend of old and new SciFi, to bring about the feeling that we're finally living in the future.

1. Dragon v2 will carry astronauts into orbit!

Since the Space Shuttle Atlantis landed back in July 2011, most space agencies from around the world have been dependent on Russia's Roscosmos (or Russian Federal Space Agency) and their Soyuz program to ferry personnel to low-Earth orbit and back. SpaceX's Dragon v2 will not only bring astronaut launches back to U.S. soil, but since it is operated by a private company, this could open up space to a much broader segment of the Earth's population. Also, with a spacious interior that will make every astronaut that's ever flown to space before jealous, the 7-person crews going into orbit on board a Dragon v2 will do so in unprecedented comfort!

Credit: SpaceX

Credit: SpaceX

2. Dragon v1 needs help to dock with the International Space Station, but Dragon v2 can do it all by itself.

SpaceX's Dragon v1 spacecraft, which is currently being used to ferry cargo to and from space, needs the help of the ISS crew and the Canadarm2 to safely attach and detach from the station. When Dragon v2 is taxiing station crews back and forth, the spacecraft will be able to handle all the docking maneuvers on its own. This will free up valuable time in the astronauts' schedules, allowing them to tend to other station tasks. 

Credit: SpaceX

Credit: SpaceX

3. Forget about parachutes and water landings, this Dragon descends on wings of fire, to land on its own four feet!

Astronaut capsules before Dragon v2 mainly used parachutes as their primary way of ensuring a safe landing, and they typically depended on a water landing. Russia's Soyuz capsules come down on land, using a sudden burst of rocket power just before touching down, but they still depend on parachutes as their safe way of reaching Earth. Dragon v2 still has the parachutes, of course, but that's just the backup system. Once it reenters the atmosphere, the capsule fires its four SuperDraco engines to perform what's known as a 'propulsive landing' - gradually bringing the spacecraft down on rocket power to touch down safely on the ground. It can still perform a safe landing even if it loses two of these engines, and at any time the spacecraft doesn't have access to at least two for the landing, it deploys its parachute system to bring the spacecraft down in a more 'conventional' way. Check out this video animation of the flight and landing sequence:

4. It looks like something out of a futuristic SciFi movie!

From the outside, it looks like a slightly more organic and streamlined version of the Dragon v1, and it certainly takes design cues from as far back as the Apollo space program. However, step inside the Dragon v2 and it's a completely different story!

Credit: SpaceX

Credit: SpaceX

Strap yourself in to one of its seven contoured leather acceleration chairs and pull down the flight console into position in front of you, as SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has done here, and you may imagine yourself on the Starship Enterprise, getting ready to go to warp speed! 

5. The Dragon v2 is immediately reusable!

Since the spacecraft comes down under power and lands at the same facility where it launched into space from, it's usually ready to go for another run. As long as there weren't any technical problems that need to be ironed out from the landing, simply rotate the crew, top up the spacecraft's fuel tanks, pop it onto the top of another Falcon Heavy rocket and you're go for launch! This incredible turn-around time for launches is something the space industry hasn't ever had access to and it will not only give unparalleled flexibility, but it will bring the costs of each launch down considerably. It's unlikely that the common person will be able to afford to climb on board anytime soon, but each launch will bring us one step closer.

The only 'down' side to all of this amazing news is that we're going to have to wait around three years to see Dragon v2 in action. The planned roll-out for this new spacecraft is 2017. 

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