Dragon in space

What is Dragon?

Dragon is a free-flying spacecraft designed and manufactured by SpaceX to send cargo and humans to orbiting destinations. While delivering space cargo used to be in the domain of powerful governments, Dragon became the first ever commercial spacecraft to deliver material to and return cargo from the International Space Station. As of now, Dragon only carries cargo to space. However, in two to three years, its first manned test flight is expected to happen, which would eventually enable Dragon to fly crew to the ISS. The crewed version would be called Dragon V2. Dragon V2 would be able to carry seven astronauts to and from low Earth orbit.

Development began in late 2004. In 2005, NASA opened the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS), allowing commercial ISS resupply cargo vehicles to replace the Space Shuttle. In 2006, the International Space Station awarded SpaceX with a $1.6 billion contract that allowed it to deliver supplies to the space station. Under the contract, SpaceX would be making 12 flights to the ISS, with a minimum of 20,000 kg (44,000 lb) of cargo carried to the ISS.


What is it made of?

Dragon is composed of a nose-cone cap that jettisons after launch, a conventional blunt-cone ballistic capsule, and an unpressurized cargo-carrier trunk equipped with two solar arrays. The capsule is protected by a PICA-X heat shield, designed to to withstand the Earth atmospheric reentry, even at high return velocities. The capsule is re-usable.

Launched on top of a Falcon 9 booster, the Dragon capsule is built with 18 Draco thrusters, dual-redundant in all axes. It can transport 3,310 kg (7,300 lb) of cargo, in different degrees of pressurization. When delivering unpressurized disposal mass, it can return to Earth 3,310 kg (7,300 lb). On the other hand, up to 2, 500 kg of pressurized cargo can return, given parachute limitations.

What is the Red Dragon?

Esentially, it’s a concept to send an unmanned Mars Lander by using a SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch vehicle and a redesigned Dragon capsule to get through the red planet’s atmosphere. Its mission is to search for past or present biosignatures on Mars. Its proposed launch date is 2022.

What is Radiation tolerance?

Dragon has a “radiation-tolerant” design. This means that its three pairs of flight computers would constantly check on each other to see any fault or problem. Should a radiation upset or a soft error occur, one of the flight computers would go under a soft reboot.