Dragon is a partially reusable spacecraft developed by SpaceX, an American private space transportation company based in Hawthorne, California. Dragon is launched into space by the SpaceX Falcon 9 two-stage-to-orbit launch vehicle, and SpaceX is developing a crewed version called the Dragon V2.
During its uncrewed maiden flight in December 2010, Dragon became the first commercially-built and operated spacecraft to be recovered successfully from orbit. On 25 May 2012, an uncrewed variant of Dragon became the first commercial spacecraft to successfully rendezvous with and be attached to the International Space Station (ISS). SpaceX is contracted to deliver cargo to the ISS under NASA's Commercial Resupply Services program, and Dragon began regular cargo flights in October 2012.
SpaceX is additionally developing a crewed variant of the Dragon called Dragon V2. Dragon V2 will be able to carry up to seven astronauts, or some combination of crew and cargo, to and from low Earth orbit. SpaceX has received several U.S. Government contracts to develop its crewed variant, including a Commercial Crew Development 2 (CCDev 2)-funded Space Act Agreement in April 2011, and a Commercial Crew integrated Capability (CCiCap)-funded space act agreement in August 2012. The spacecraft's heat shield is furthermore designed to withstand Earth re-entry velocities from potential Lunar and Martian spaceflights.
The Dragon spacecraft consists 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 uses a PICA-X heat shield – based on a proprietary variant of NASA's phenolic impregnated carbon ablator (PICA) material – designed to protect the capsule during Earth atmospheric reentry, even at high return velocities from Lunar and Martian missions. The Dragon capsule is re-usable, and can be flown on multiple missions. The trunk is not recoverable; it separates from the capsule before re-entry and burns up in Earth's atmosphere.
The spacecraft is launched atop a Falcon 9 booster. The Dragon capsule is equipped with 18 Draco thrusters, dual-redundant in all axes: any two can fail without compromising the vehicle's control over its pitch, yaw, roll and translation. During its initial cargo and crew flights, the Dragon capsule will land in the Pacific Ocean and be returned to the shore by ship. SpaceX plans to eventually install deployable landing gear and use eight upgraded SuperDraco thrusters to perform a solid earth propulsive landing.
The trunk section, which carries the spacecraft's solar panels and allows the transport of unpressurized cargo to the ISS, was first used for cargo on the SpaceX CRS-2 mission.
SpaceX's CEO, Elon Musk, named the spacecraft after the 1963 song "Puff, the Magic Dragon" by Peter, Paul and Mary, reportedly as a response to critics who considered his spaceflight projects impossible.
In December 2010, the SpaceX production line was reported to be manufacturing one new Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket every three months. Elon Musk stated in a 2010 interview that he planned to increase production turnover to one Dragon every six weeks by 2012. Composite materials are extensively used in the spacecraft's manufacture to reduce weight and improve structural strength.
By September 2013, SpaceX total manufacturing space had increased to nearly 1,000,000 square feet (93,000 m2) and the factory had six Dragons in various stages of production. SpaceX published a photograph showing the six, including the next four NASA Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) mission Dragons (CRS-3, CRS-4, CRS-5, CRS-6) plus the drop-test Dragon, and the pad-abort Dragon weldment for commercial crew.
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