This is SpaceX’s new Dragon V2 spacecraft. And it is gorgeous.

May 29, 2014

Elon Musk has a somewhat understated approach to his product reveals. There's no trace of the "amazing!" or "revolutionary!" gobbledygook that accompanies other tech presentations. That's because the, er, gravity of what Musk and SpaceX are doing mostly speaks for itself.

 

On Thursday, Musk announced the Dragon V2, the next-generation space capsule designed to bring humans to the International Space Station. It carries seven people, can land on the ground with the accuracy of a helicopter — or so Musk claims — and can dock with the ISS directly.


Dragon V2 comes with new SuperDraco thrusters, which are made by a 3D printer. Each one produces 16,000 pounds of thrust — up from the 100 pounds of thrust SpaceX could squeeze out of its last-generation Draco engines. They're built to be redundant: Even when two of them fail, the spacecraft can still land on the ground with its remaining thrusters. And if all else fails, there's still the reserve parachute for a water-based splashdown.

The actual spacecraft looks even more gorgeous when it's not an artist's animation.


(SpaceX)

Musk even decided to hop inside to offer a guided tour.


(SpaceX)

Getting in there was a little tricky, but he could stand up inside perfectly fine.


(SpaceX)

You control this thing using a Bloomberg terminal, evidently.


(SpaceX)

No, seriously. Can I check my stocks on that thing?


(SpaceX)

From the heatshield to the engines, the whole design is meant to enhance the spacecraft's reusability. Once it lands back on earth, you can just fill 'er up with more fuel and she'll be ready to go again. And SpaceX is betting that that will bring down the cost of space travel dramatically.

"As long as we continue to throw away rockets and spacecraft, we will never have true access to space," said Musk. "If aircraft were thrown away with each flight, nobody would be able to fly — or very few. The same is true of rockets and spacecraft."

Of course, even with the savings, it's likely that spaceflight will only be available to a few, select civilians for the foreseeable future. Which raises the question: Who is SpaceX going to find to fill all those seats? There aren't nearly enough billionaires on the planet to keep them full every time.

Related: Why do U.S. spy satellites rely on Russian rocket engines?

Brian Fung covers technology for The Washington Post, focusing on telecom, broadband and digital politics. Before joining the Post, he was the technology correspondent for National Journal and an associate editor at the Atlantic.
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