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Engineering: New SpaceX Capsule Glides Back to Earth

SpaceX Dragon v2

SpaceX Dragon v2 (image courtesy of

Commercial spaceflight company SpaceX aims to win a NASA contract to bring astronauts to the International Space Station by 2017.  They recently debuted their new version of the Dragon capsule – this time equipped to carry up to 7 astronauts.

The inside of the capsule shows an elegant futuristic design – complete with a movable control panel.  It looks like the designers were really inspired by science fiction movies!

Elon Musk inside the Dragon v2

Elon Musk inside the Dragon v2 (image courtesy of SpaceX)

Another unique feature of the capsule is the ability for it to glide to a rocket-powered landing.  Unlike traditional capsules – which glide to a landing in the ocean using a parachute system – the Dragon V2 aims to use 8 thruster pods to initiate a controlled landing on land.  This would potentially allow the capsule to be reused.  As SpaceX continues their development, they are trying to lower the cost of launches to improve the financial model of space travel and they believe that reusing the capsules (and the rockets – they are also trying to make their Falcon rockets reusable as well) will reduce the cost of putting materials into space from the current level ($5,000-$20,000 per pound) to $500 per pound.

The design also takes advantage of 3D printing for some of the engine parts (we will talk about metal 3D printing in a later post).

SpaceX is a really great demonstration of engineers asking new questions and pursuing new designs – some of which look like they came right out of a movie!

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