By Steven Siceloff,
NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Florida
The Dragon spacecraft, designed to carry people into Earth's orbit, received a few upgrades as SpaceX refines its vehicle in partnership with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Today, SpaceX revealed these changes as it unveiled the Dragon V2 at the company's Hawthorne, California, headquarters.
Vehicle upgrades include solar arrays that will be affixed to the side of the spacecraft's trunk instead of on fold-out wings and a new launch escape system that will allow crew members to escape an anomaly at any point during flight. The vehicle is intended to ferry seven astronauts, along with critical cargo and supplies.
SpaceX is one of NASA's commercial partners working to develop a new generation of U.S. spacecraft and rockets capable of transporting humans to and from Earth's orbit from American soil. Ultimately, NASA intends to use such commercial systems to fly U.S. astronauts to and from the International Space Station.
The commercial effort to build a private, human-rated spacecraft began about four years ago and is the first stepping stone in NASA's strategy to send humans on a path to explore deeper into space than ever before, including visits to Mars in the 2030s.
SpaceX is focusing on what the Dragon will need to do to operate successfully in space. Musk said the company has applied scores of lessons learned from flying the cargo-only version of Dragon to the space station and from NASA’s more than 50 years of human spaceflight.
The Dragon V2 spacecraft is scheduled to fly for the first time in a pad abort test later this year, followed by an in-flight abort test, as part of the company’s Commercial Crew Integrated Capability agreement with NASA.