SpaceX Dragon

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SpaceX Dragon

Dragon is a family of spacecraft developed and produced by American private space transportation company SpaceX. The first family member, later named Dragon 1, flew 23 cargo missions to the ISS between 2010 and 2020 before retiring. This version, not designed to carry astronauts, was funded by NASA with $396 million awarded through the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program,[1] with SpaceX announced as a winner of the first round of funding on August 18, 2006.

SpaceX developed its Dragon 2 spacecraft starting in 2014, with a cargo and crewed version. It entered service in 2019 with the Demo-1 flight, and performed its first flight with astronauts on May 30, 2020, during the Crew Dragon Demo-2 flight.

SpaceX also investigated a version named Red Dragon for Mars exploration, but the project did not proceed.

A version named Dragon XL is proposed to provide Gateway Logistics Services to the Lunar Gateway.


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.[2] Early on, it had been named Magic Dragon, and t-shirts had been printed with this name.[3] As late as September 2012, SpaceX board member Steve Jurvetson was still referring to it as "The Magic Dragon, Puffed to the sea."[4] That was his caption to a photo of the capsule several months after it had completed its COTS 2 demo flight where the spacecraft had accomplished its first docking with the ISS. This song, ostensibly composed for children, had long been associated with perceived references to smoking marijuana. In 2008, Elon Musk confirmed that the association between the song and marijuana was the reason behind the name Dragon, saying that "so many people thought I [must be] smoking weed to do this venture."[5]

Dragon 1[edit]

Dragon 1 was the original Dragon iteration, providing cargo service to the ISS. It flew 23 missions between 2010 and 2020, when it was retired. On May 25, 2012, NASA astronaut Don Pettit operated the Canadarm2 to grapple the first SpaceX Dragon and berth it to the Harmony module. This marked the first time a private spacecraft had ever rendezvoused with the ISS. The Dragon capsule was carrying supplies for the ISS, and the successful capture demonstrated the feasibility of using privately developed spacecraft to resupply the station. Pettit was also the first to enter the uncrewed supply ship on May 26, making him the first astronaut in the history of space exploration to successfully enter a commercially-built and operated spacecraft in orbit. During the capture, he was quoted saying, "Houston, Station, we've got us a dragon by the tail."

Dragon 2[edit]

Starting in 2014, SpaceX developed SpaceX Dragon 2. Dragon 2 has a crewed variant and a cargo variant. It began providing service in 2019.

Red Dragon[edit]

Red Dragon was a cancelled version of the Dragon spacecraft that had been previously proposed to fly farther than Earth orbit and transit to Mars via interplanetary space. In addition to SpaceX's own privately funded plans for an eventual Mars mission, NASA Ames Research Center had developed a concept called Red Dragon. Red Dragon was to be a low-cost Mars mission that would use Falcon Heavy as the launch vehicle and trans-Martian injection vehicle, and the SpaceX Dragon 2-based capsule to enter the atmosphere of Mars. The concept was originally envisioned for launch in 2018 as a NASA Discovery mission, then alternatively for 2022, but was never formally submitted for funding within NASA.[6] The mission would have been designed to return samples from Mars to Earth at a fraction of the cost of NASA's own sample-return mission, which was projected in 2015 to cost US$6 billion.[6]

On 27 April 2016, SpaceX announced its plan to go ahead and launch a modified Dragon lander to Mars in 2018.[7][8] However, Musk canceled the Red Dragon program in July 2017 to focus on developing the Starship system instead.[9][10] The modified Red Dragon capsule would have performed all entry, descent and landing (EDL) functions needed to deliver payloads of 1,000 kilograms (2,200 lb) or more to the Martian surface without using a parachute. Preliminary analysis showed that the capsule's atmospheric drag would slow it enough for the final stage of its descent to be within the abilities of its SuperDraco retro-propulsion thrusters.[11][12]

Dragon XL[edit]

SpaceX Dragon XL

On 27 March 2020, SpaceX revealed the Dragon XL resupply spacecraft to carry pressurized and unpressurized cargo, experiments and other supplies to NASA's planned Lunar Gateway under a Gateway Logistics Services (GLS) contract.[13][14] The equipment delivered by Dragon XL missions could include sample collection materials, spacesuits and other items astronauts may need on the Gateway and on the surface of the Moon, according to NASA. It will launch on SpaceX Falcon Heavy rockets from LC-39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.[15]

The Dragon XL will stay at the Gateway for 6 to 12 months at a time, when research payloads inside and outside the cargo vessel could be operated remotely, even when crews are not present.[16] Its payload capacity is expected to be more than 5,000 kilograms (11,000 lb) to lunar orbit.[17] There is no requirement for a return to Earth. At the end of the mission the Dragon XL must be able to undock and dispose of the same mass it can bring to the Gateway, by moving the spacecraft to a heliocentric orbit.[18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Statement of William H. Gerstenmaier Associate Administrator for Space Operations before the Committee on Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics U.S. House of Representatives" (PDF). U.S. House of Representatives. 26 May 2011. Retrieved 28 April 2014.
  2. ^ "5 Fun Facts About Private Rocket Company SpaceX". 21 May 2012. Archived from the original on 23 May 2015. Retrieved 26 May 2012.
  3. ^ Tom Markusic, founder of Firefly Aerospace, explains the name of the Dragon spacecraft during his early days working at Space X (YouTube video of Nov 14, 2022 lecture at the University of Texas at Austin, Aerospace Engineering Department, published Nov 17, 2022)
  4. ^ Jurvetson, Steve (7 September 2012). "The Magic Dragon". Retrieved 29 November 2022.
  5. ^ Elon Musk, CEO and CTO, Space Exploration Technologies Corp (SpaceX) explains how he picked the names 'Falcon' and 'Dragon', Google Zeitgeist'08 talk "10 Years In / 10 Years Out", September 18, 2008 (YouTube, published on Sep 22, 2008)
  6. ^ a b Wall, Mike (10 September 2015). ""Red Dragon" Mars Sample-Return Mission Could Launch by 2022". Archived from the original on 26 January 2017. Retrieved 20 September 2015.
  7. ^ @SpaceX (27 April 2016). "Planning to send Dragon to Mars as soon as 2018. Red Dragons will inform overall Mars architecture, details to come" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  8. ^ Newmann, Dava. "Exploring Together". Archived from the original on 1 May 2016. Retrieved 27 April 2016. Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  9. ^ Berger, Eric (19 July 2017). "SpaceX appears to have pulled the plug on its Red Dragon plans". Archived from the original on 21 July 2017. Retrieved 21 July 2017.
  10. ^ Grush, Loren (19 July 2017). "Elon Musk suggests SpaceX is scrapping its plans to land Dragon capsules on Mars". The Verge. Archived from the original on 31 July 2017. Retrieved 10 November 2019.
  11. ^ Wall, Mike (31 July 2011). ""Red Dragon" Mission Mulled as Cheap Search for Mars Life". Archived from the original on 1 December 2011. Retrieved 1 May 2012.
  12. ^ "NASA ADVISORY COUNCIL (NAC) – Science Committee Report" (PDF). NASA Ames Research Center. 1 November 2011. Archived from the original (PDF) on 20 January 2013. Retrieved 1 May 2012. Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  13. ^ Potter, Sean (27 March 2020). "NASA Awards Artemis Contract for Gateway Logistics Services". NASA. Archived from the original on 27 March 2020. Retrieved 28 March 2020. Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  14. ^ Foust, Jeff (27 March 2020). "SpaceX wins NASA commercial cargo contract for lunar Gateway". SpaceNews. Archived from the original on 29 March 2020. Retrieved 8 October 2021.
  15. ^ Clark, Stephen. "NASA picks SpaceX to deliver cargo to Gateway station in lunar orbit". Spaceflight Now. Archived from the original on 28 March 2020. Retrieved 28 March 2020.
  16. ^ Clark, Stephen. "NASA picks SpaceX to deliver cargo to Gateway station in lunar orbit". Spaceflight Now. Archived from the original on 28 March 2020. Retrieved 28 March 2020.
  17. ^ "Dragon XL revealed as NASA ties SpaceX to Lunar Gateway supply contract". 27 March 2020. Archived from the original on 28 March 2020. Retrieved 28 March 2020.
  18. ^ "NASA delays starting contract with SpaceX for Gateway cargo services". 15 April 2021. Archived from the original on 17 April 2021. Retrieved 21 January 2022.