SpaceX to Unveil New Spacecraft

SuperDraco Firing

Space Exploration Technologies Corp., the start-up rocket-maker known as SpaceX and headed by billionaire Elon Musk, plans to unveil a new spacecraft today at its California headquarters.

The new craft, called Dragon V2, complete with its new thruster, called SuperDraco, is designed to carry seven astronauts. The propulsion system is designed to separate the module from the rocket if necessary and land the crew safety on the ground — “on Earth or another planet with pinpoint accuracy,” according to a press release.

Unlike earlier generations of launch escape systems that jettisoned after launch, the company’s version is built into the spacecraft itself.

Eight SuperDraco thrusters capable of producing a combined 120,000 pounds of axial thrust are built into the walls of the module. The engine chamber is made of Inconel, a high-performance superalloy, using a process called direct metal laser sintering, a form of 3-D printing.

“Through 3-D printing, robust and high-performing engine parts can be created at a fraction of the cost and time of traditional manufacturing methods,” Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk said in the release. “SpaceX is pushing the boundaries of what additive manufacturing can do in the 21st century, ultimately making our vehicles more efficient, reliable and robust than ever before.”

The company plans to stream live video of the ceremony beginning 7 p.m. Pacific time. It also released video of the thruster firing as part of qualification testing, which took place over the past month at its rocket facility in McGregor, Texas.

SpaceX has a contract with NASA to resupply the International Space Station and is seeking certification to eventually fly astronauts to the orbital outpost — a prospect that may not happen until 2017 due in part to federal budget cuts.

The company is also trying to break into the military launch market and has sued the Air Force to open more missions to competition.

(Story was updated to clarify that the unveiling ceremony was for the spacecraft, not just the engine.)

About the Author

Brendan McGarry
Brendan McGarry is the managing editor of Military.com. He can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.
  • JamalTheBanker

    I freakin love SpaceX.

  • Dfens

    Hey, that’s not right. They should be resting on their laurels from the work they did in the 1970’s or going to some communist country that openly seeks to dominate or oppress this country for rocket engines.

    • John Deere

      Developing the space shuttle along with the USAF was hardly “resting on laurels”; the space shuttle was the most complex machine ever built. Yes, it proved to be a technological dead end, but this was the result of politics not science and engineering. It was Nixon who cancelled Apollo and ended the manned interplanetary space programme, condemning us to thirty years of low Earth orbit.

      As for using Russian rockets: in the open market Russia’s rockets are cheaper and better for the job at hand. This is why they were used. Expect a rush of releases from SpaceX in the wake of Russia’s international isolation. They will be the recipient of taxpayers dollars (NASA contracts) to get a manned space programme back on track.

  • Ben

    They’re also unveiling their human-capable Dragon V2 tonight:
    http://www.spacex.com/webcast/

  • buckwheat

    The best dude

    • buckwheat

      Ok

  • hibeam

    Someday soon someone will figure out how to make money going into space to grow super pure silicon crystals or to make drugs that can’t be processed in 1g or just for the pure fun of it… And then costs will plummet and it will all take off like a friggin rocket (no pun intended). Go SpaceX!

    • rtsy

      Only if we can get the rest of the worlds billionaires to start working on this too.

      • John Deere

        SpaceX is funded by the US taxpayer, mostly.

        • Ben

          Sources?

          • John Deere

            SpaceX’s biggest customers are NASA and USAF, SpaceX’s profit comes from the taxpayer. SpaceX’s funding is not a secret: the rockets were initially funded by private equity, the company’s income is guaranteed by Government contract, they are a NASA contractor: http://www.spacex.com/about.

            I don’t know why my previous post got so many down votes; I guess the truth isn’t popular around here.

    • Ben

      Planetary Resources – AKA, that new asteroid mining company headed up by James Cameron and a bunch of other billionaires?

      The scout sats are scheduled for launch next year I believe.

  • Gwhite

    While I love Space X and how they push the boundaries, I cant help but think what will happen when Reaction Engines Skylon Spaceplane and its SABRE engine start flying. Now that system is truly revolutionary and gives you Sci Fi like spaceflight. The USAF is now looking into the tech and working with Reaction Engines and the ESA approved it as a valid design.

    • Dfens

      Single stage to orbit is a loser. It has all the drawbacks of the shuttle and then some since it has much more heat shielded acreage. 2 stage to orbit with an air breathing fly back first stage is the future for manned space exploration.

      • John Deere

        Skylon has none of the disadvantages of the shuttle and would be the cheapest route into orbit because a large proportion of the Sabre engine’s fuel is drawn from the atmosphere. The heat shielding doesn’t use antiquated tiles, like the shuttle. The heat-shield material is a fiber reinforced ceramic, much lighter and tougher than shields of yore.

        • Dfens

          Yeah, it would be great if anything you said was true.

          • John Deere

            Er… if you could point out a single inaccuracy I would be grateful. If you have any doubts about the information in my post here’s a link to the Reaction Engines website, check the facts yourself: http://www.reactionengines.co.uk/space_skylon.htm

    • Ben

      Sounds economical for smaller payloads, like astronauts and supplies to the ISS. Not sure a spaceplane would hold up as well while carrying larger sats or vehicles.

  • hibeam

    Someday we will reach a tipping point where no one things in terms of hauling stuff up. There is plenty of stuff ‘up’ there already. And lots of solar power nearby.

  • TonyC.

    Pushing the boundaries of technology is what NASA was supposed to be doing. Now the commercial world will push it to the limit. Maybe SpaceX will develop an orbiting garbage collection craft to make spaceflight safer. So much junk is orbiting the Earth that it’s bound to damage spacecraft in a commercial operation environment.

    • PolicyWonk

      There are many thousands of tracked pieces of junk orbiting the Earth, and far more that aren’t being tracked because they’re too small. The worst thing to happen in the past decade was the testing of the anti-satellite weapon on the part of the ChiComs, because the debris field of the destroyed a fairly high altitude “weather satellite” spread far and wide, and will linger for a century or more.

      Hence – by testing their weapon, they not only imperiled their own people (and space program), but everyone else’s too.

    • John Deere

      NASA is still pushing the boundaries; it has simply offloaded trucking and taxi duties to a small private company. You do know NASA did this is the past, too? A little private company called Boeing built a system that could place 120 tons in low Earth orbit, or hurl 45 tons direct to the Moon. This was in 1968, it was called the Saturn V rocket.

  • Hunter76

    Not true, for whatever it matters. The SpaceX press center is at http://www.spacex.com/press. Their most recent release is “SpaceX Completes Qualification Testing of SuperDraco Thruster”.

    • Derek Howe

      My comment was true, why do you think the headline is now changed, and the administrator deleted my post…

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