SpaceX unveiled its Dragon V2 spacecraft Thursday night, promising it will be able to carry seven astronauts to the International Space Station and back to Earth again, landing with the precision of a helicopter.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said the new spacecraft marks a “big leap forward,” for the private space company. Among the key improvements on the new Dragon spacecraft are new rocket engines that will allow the capsule to touch down gently.
“You’ll be able to land anywhere on Earth with the accuracy of a helicopter,” Musk promised.
After showing a demonstration of the capsule blasting back into Earth’s atmosphere before hovering to its landing, Musk smiled and told the crowd: “That is how a 21st century spaceship should land.”
The Dragon V2 has other key features, too, including: the ability to dock autonomously with the International Space Station without using The Canadarm, an improved heat shield and seating for up to seven astronauts.
The California-based rocket maker is one of several private companies vying to develop "space taxis" for NASA to replace the retired space shuttle fleet.
Musk also showed off the interior of the Dragon V2, which houses two rows of seats inside its metal walls along with one bank of screens and controls. The space is clean and minimal, almost with the appearance of a futuristic rollercoaster ride.
The Dragon V2 — some of which is fabricated with 3D printed parts — will also be reusable, Musk said, something he hopes will cut down on the cost barrier of space exploration. He did not say how much the new spacecraft cost to build.
Since the shuttle retired in 2011, NASA has relied on Russian rockets, paying nearly $71 million per seat. The space agency has said it wants U.S. companies to fill the void in several years.