spaceSpace and Physics

SpaceX Shows Off Its New Manned Spacecraft Hovering In Mid-Air


Jonathan O'Callaghan

Senior Staff Writer

823 SpaceX Shows Off Its New Manned Spacecraft Hovering In Mid-Air

We’re only a few weeks into 2016, but we can already see that SpaceX is going to be dominating the headlines in space exploration this year. Fresh off the back of their oh-so-close barge landing, the company has released footage of its upcoming manned spacecraft “hovering” in mid-air.

The Dragon 2, or Crew Dragon as it’s also known, will be used by SpaceX to take astronauts into space. Manned flights are scheduled to start in 2017, but before that begins, the company is going through a rigorous testing procedure.


Dragon 2 differs somewhat from other capsule-shaped spacecraft. All others, such as the historic Apollo capsule or modern Soyuz spacecraft, landed using parachutes. SpaceX’s vehicle, though, has eight SuperDraco thrusters on the side that allow it to perform a powered landing. The goal is to have the capsule return to the ground from space with “the accuracy of a helicopter,” NASA said in a blog post, without a need for parachutes or an ocean landing.

In the video of the test below, released on January 21 by the company but performed on November 24 last year, the thrusters fire for several seconds, supporting the entire weight of the unmanned test capsule, which had previously been hanging from a cable. Although short, the test proves this important capability of the spacecraft works. Much more safety testing will be needed before it’s ready to fly, though.




These same thrusters can be used to get the capsule to safety during a botched launch, known as a launch abort system. This capability was tested in 2015. Now, in the latest test at the company’s testing facility in MacGregor, Texas, SpaceX has shown how the thrusters allow the capsule to remain stable, and gently lower itself, in mid-air.

As noted by NASA, though, propulsive landing will not be used for initial missions with NASA astronauts to the International Space Station. Instead, the early versions of Dragon 2 will “splash down safely in the ocean under parachutes as its passengers return from the space station,” the agency said.

And you can you expect plenty more news from SpaceX this year. Alongside continued launches of its Falcon 9 rocket, the company will be attempting more first stage landings. It is also expected to launch the larger Falcon Heavy rocket this year, and it may also reveal its plans to get humans to Mars.


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