Space X has revealed the Dragon V2 Capsule. The V2 is anticipated to carry up to seven crew and 3-4 tonnes of cargo to and from the International Space Station (ISS) per trip, ending NASA's dependency on Russia and hopefully saving substantially on the current $60 million a head price tag.
SpaceX founder Elon Musk said the new capsule would get astronauts to the ISS and back for $20 million per person, and this might fall to seven figures if SpaceX was given enough work. Construction of the V2 has already cost close to half a billion dollars, and Musk says, “It'll probably be that amount more to get to first flight”. Consequently the cost per flight will be highly dependent on the number of flights over which these upfront costs can be distributed.
With typical Musk optimism he said, “From a SpaceX standpoint we expect to be ready to transport crew by 2016,” a year ahead of NASA's deadline for a commercial space shuttle.
Along with the demonstration model of the capsule (see above) Space X released an animation of how the capsule is intended to operate.
The Dragon V2 is intended to be launched on SpaceX's Falcon, like the V1 which has now completed three successful unmanned flights to the ISS. As the video reveals, the V2 will land itself gently on a helicopter pad, rather than needing to be retrieved from the ocean at great expense. For this to happen it will be equipped with SuperDraco engines 200 times as powerful as those on the V1. Musk described these engines as the “biggest technology challenge” of the new capsule. However, such a landing mechanism is essential to increasing the reusability of the capsule, which is vital if spaceflight is to become affordable.
In a handy piece of both cross design and cross promotion, the V2's control panels are "ruggedized" touchscreens copied from the Tesla Model S http://www.teslamotors.com/models, Musk's groundbreaking electric car, so now even if you'll never get to be an astronaut you can feel like one driving a car with the same controls.
NASA has been supporting Space X and its competitors in the race to be able to transport astronauts primarily for cost reasons, but the urgency has increased with Russian threats to end space cooperation over geopolitical conflicts, notably Ukraine.
Musk, however, has much bigger plans. “We want to get to the point where we have thousands of space flights per year, and ultimately where we have a base on the moon and we have [bases] for other civilizations, that’s where things need to go in the long term,” Musk told the audience at the launch. “Eventually we will be able to go beyond our solar system.”
Musk's launch speech can be seen here: