SpaceX Dragon 2
|Country of origin||United States|
|Applications||ISS crew and cargo transport; private astronaut transport|
|Built||6 (1 prototype, 4 crew, 1 cargo)|
5 under construction
|Launched||4 (+2 suborbital)|
|Lost||1 (in testing)|
|Maiden launch||2 March 2019 (uncrewed test)|
30 May 2020 (crewed)
|Derived from||SpaceX Dragon|
|Part of a series on|
|Contracts and programs|
Dragon 2 is a class of reusable spacecraft developed and manufactured by American aerospace manufacturer SpaceX as the successor to Dragon 1, a reusable cargo spacecraft. There are two variants: Crew Dragon, a space capsule capable of ferrying up to seven astronauts, and Cargo Dragon, an updated replacement for the original Dragon spacecraft. The spacecraft launches atop a Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket and returns to Earth via an ocean splashdown. Unlike its predecessor, the spacecraft can autonomously dock to the International Space Station (ISS) instead of being berthed.
Crew Dragon is equipped with an integrated launch escape system (LES) consisting of eight SuperDraco engines, capable of accelerating the vehicle away from the rocket in an emergency. The spacecraft features redesigned solar arrays and a modified outer mold line compared to the original Dragon, and possesses new flight computers and avionics. As of March 2020, four operational Dragon 2 spacecraft have been manufactured, as well as several unflown test articles.
Crew Dragon serves as one of two spacecraft that are expected to transport crews to and from the ISS under NASA's Commercial Crew Program, the other being the Boeing CST-100 Starliner; both craft succeeding the crew orbital transportation capabilities of the Space Shuttle which retired from service in 2011. It is also expected to be used in flights by American space tourism company Space Adventures and to shuttle tourists to and from Axiom Space's planned space station. Crew Dragon's first uncrewed test flight occurred in March 2019, and its first crewed test flight – with astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley – occurred in May 2020. This marked the first time a private company launched a crewed orbital spacecraft. Cargo Dragon is expected to supply cargo to the ISS under a Commercial Resupply Services-2 contract with NASA, along with Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems' Cygnus spacecraft and Sierra Nevada Corporation's Dream Chaser spacecraft. The first flight of Dragon 2 in a cargo configuration launched in December 2020. On 10 November 2020, the Crew Dragon, as well as the Falcon 9 rocket and associated ground systems, were fully certified by NASA as the first commercial launch system in history capable of transporting humans to and from the ISS. As of May 2021, the Crew Dragon spacecraft that carried four astronauts to the International Space Station in November 2020 broke the record for the longest spaceflight by a U.S. crew vehicle, surpassing the 84-day mark set by an Apollo capsule on the final flight to the Skylab (Skylab-4) space station on 8 February 1974.
Development and variants
There are two variants: Crew Dragon and Cargo Dragon. Crew Dragon was initially called "DragonRider" and it was intended from the beginning to support a crew of seven or a combination of crew and cargo. It is able to perform fully autonomous rendezvous and docking with manual override ability, using the NASA Docking System (NDS). For typical missions, Crew Dragon will remain docked to the ISS for a period of 180 days, but is designed to remain on the station for up to 210 days, matching the Russian Soyuz spacecraft. From the beginning of the development process, SpaceX planned to use an integrated pusher launch escape system for the Dragon spacecraft.
SpaceX originally intended to land Crew Dragon on land using the LES engines, with parachutes and an ocean splashdown available in the case of an aborted launch. Precision water landing under parachutes was proposed to NASA as "the baseline return and recovery approach for the first few flights" of Crew Dragon. Propulsive landing was later cancelled, leaving ocean splashdown under parachutes as the only option. As of 2011[update], the Paragon Space Development Corporation was assisting in developing Crew Dragon's life-support system.
In 2012, SpaceX was in talks with Orbital Outfitters about developing space suits to wear during launch and re-entry. Each crew member wears a custom space suit fitted for them. The suit is primarily designed for use inside the Dragon (IVA type suit): however, in the case of a rapid cabin depressurization, the suit can protect the crew members. The suit can also provide cooling for astronauts during normal flight. For the Demo-1 mission, a test dummy nicknamed Ripley was fitted with the spacesuit and sensors. The spacesuit "is made from Nomex", a fire retardant fabric similar to Kevlar.
At a NASA news conference on 18 May 2012, SpaceX confirmed their target launch price for crewed Dragon flights of US$160 million, or about US$23 million per seat if the maximum crew of seven is aboard and NASA orders at least four Crew Dragon flights per year. This contrasts with the 2014 Soyuz launch price of US$76 million per seat for NASA astronauts. The spacecraft's design was unveiled on 29 May 2014, during a press event at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California. In October 2014, NASA selected the Dragon spacecraft as one of the candidates to fly American astronauts to the International Space Station, under the Commercial Crew Program. SpaceX is using the Falcon 9 Block 5 launch vehicle to launch Dragon 2.
Although Dragon 2 was intended from the earliest design concept to carry crew, or with fewer seats, both crew and cargo, a second round of multi-year cargo supply contracts (also known as CRS-2) was solicited by NASA in 2014, to supply the ISS in 2020–2024. This led to SpaceX proposing a separately-named model, Cargo Dragon, for the NASA flights. SpaceX won a contract award for Cargo Dragon as a result of the CRS-22 bid competition, with contracts awarded in January 2016 for six flights.
Cargo Dragons are different from the crewed variant by launching without seats, cockpit controls, astronaut life support systems, or SuperDraco abort engines. Cargo Dragon improves on many aspects of the original Dragon design, including the recovery and refurbishment process. SpaceX plans to reuse each Cargo Dragon capsule up to five times.
Dragon 2 is partially reusable, potentially resulting in a significant cost reduction. After earlier plans of SpaceX to use new capsules for every crewed flight for NASA both agreed to reuse Crew Dragon capsules for NASA flights. Cargo Dragon can carry 3,307 kg (7,291 lb) to the ISS; Crew Dragon has a capacity of seven astronauts (only four seats are used for NASA missions). Above the seats, there is a three-screen control panel, a toilet (with privacy curtain), and the docking hatch. Ocean landings are accomplished with four main parachutes in both variants. The parachute system was fully redesigned from the one used in the prior Dragon capsule, due to the need to deploy the parachutes under a variety of launch abort scenarios.
Crew Dragon has eight side-mounted SuperDraco engines, clustered in redundant pairs in four engine pods, with each engine able to produce 71 kN (16,000 lbf) of thrust to be used for launch aborts. Each pod also contains four Draco thrusters that can be used for attitude control and orbital maneuvers. The SuperDraco engine combustion chamber is printed of Inconel, an alloy of nickel and iron, using a process of direct metal laser sintering. Engines are contained in a protective nacelle to prevent fault propagation if an engine fails.
Once in orbit, Dragon 2 is able to autonomously dock to the ISS. Dragon 1 was berthed using the Canadarm2 robotic arm, requiring substantially more involement from ISS crew. Pilots of Crew Dragon retain the ability to dock the spacecraft using manual controls interfaced with a static tablet-like computer. The spacecraft can be operated in full vacuum, and "the crew will wear SpaceX-designed space suits to protect them from a rapid cabin depressurization emergency event". Also, the spacecraft will be able to return safely if a leak occurs "of up to an equivalent orifice of 6.35 mm [0.25 in] in diameter".
Propellant and helium pressurant for both launch aborts and on-orbit maneuvering is contained in composite-carbon-overwrap titanium spherical tanks. A PICA-X heat shield protects the capsule during reentry, while a movable ballast sled allows more precise attitude control of the spacecraft during the atmospheric entry phase of the return to Earth and more accurate control of the landing ellipse location. A reusable nose cone "protects the vessel and the docking adaptor during ascent and reentry", pivoting on a hinge to enable in-space docking and returning to the covered position for reentry and future launches.
The previous Cargo Dragon's deployable solar arrays have been eliminated and are now built into the trunk itself. This increases volume space, reduces the number of mechanisms on the vehicle and further increases reliability.
Dragon is intended to fulfill a set of requirements that will make the capsule useful to both commercial and government customers. SpaceX and Bigelow Aerospace were working together to support round-trip transport of commercial passengers to low Earth orbit (LEO) destinations, but the plan was canceled. Instead Axiom plans to launch tourists to the Space Station and eventually their own private space station. NASA flights to the ISS will only have four astronauts, with the added payload mass and volume used to carry pressurized cargo.
On 16 September 2014, NASA announced that SpaceX and Boeing had been selected to provide crew transportation to the ISS. SpaceX will receive US$2.6 billion under this contract. Dragon was the less expensive proposal, but NASA's William H. Gerstenmaier considered the CST-100 proposal the stronger of the two.
In a departure from the prior NASA practice, where construction contracts with commercial firms led to direct NASA operation of the spacecraft, NASA is purchasing space transport services from SpaceX, including construction, launch, and operation of the Dragon 2.
In August 2018, NASA and SpaceX agreed on the loading procedures for propellants, vehicle fluids and crew. High-pressure helium will be loaded first, followed by the passengers approximately two hours prior to scheduled launch; the ground crew will then depart the launch pad and move to a safe distance. The launch escape system will be activated approximately 40 minutes prior to launch, with propellant loading commencing several minutes later. The first automated test mission launched to the International Space Station (ISS) on 2 March 2019.
In early 2019, crewed flights were expected to begin no earlier than July 2019. They were later planned to begin no earlier than on 30 May 2020. The first crewed flight launched on 30 May 2020 with the launch of the Demo-2 mission.
In June 2019, Bigelow Space Operations announced it had reserved with SpaceX up to four missions of four passengers each to ISS as early as 2020 and planned to sell them for around US$52 million per seat. These plans were canceled by September 2019.
On 18 February 2020, building on development for NASA's commercial crew program, Space Adventures announced an agreement with SpaceX to fly up to four paying space tourists on a standalone mission aboard a Crew Dragon spacecraft in late 2021 or 2022 that could reach an altitude two-to-three times higher than the International Space Station.
SpaceX planned a series of four flight tests for the Crew Dragon: a "pad abort" test, an uncrewed orbital flight to the ISS, an in-flight abort test, and finally a 14-day crewed demonstration mission to the ISS, which was initially planned for July 2019, but after a Dragon capsule explosion, was delayed to May 2020.
Pad abort and hover tests
The pad abort test was conducted successfully on 6 May 2015 at SpaceX's leased SLC-40. Dragon landed safely in the ocean to the east of the launchpad 99 seconds after ignition of the SuperDraco engines. While a flight-like Dragon 2 and trunk were used for the pad abort test, they rested atop a truss structure for the test rather than a full Falcon 9 rocket. A crash test dummy embedded with a suite of sensors was placed inside the test vehicle to record acceleration loads and forces at the crew seat, while the remaining six seats were loaded with weights to simulate full-passenger-load weight. The test objective was to demonstrate sufficient total impulse, thrust and controllability to conduct a safe pad abort. A fuel mixture ratio issue was detected after the flight in one of the eight SuperDraco engines causing it to under perform, but did not materially affect the flight.
On 24 November 2015, SpaceX conducted a test of Dragon 2's hovering abilities at the firm's rocket development facility in McGregor, Texas. In a video, the spacecraft is shown suspended by a hoisting cable and igniting its SuperDraco engines to hover for about 5 seconds, balancing on its 8 engines firing at reduced thrust to compensate exactly for gravity. The test vehicle was the same capsule that performed the pad abort test earlier in 2015; it was nicknamed DragonFly.
Demo-1: orbital flight test
In 2015, NASA named its first Commercial Crew astronaut cadre of four veteran astronauts to work with SpaceX and Boeing – Robert Behnken, Eric Boe, Sunita Williams, and Douglas Hurley. The Demo-1 mission completed the last milestone of the Commercial Crew Development program, paving the way to starting commercial services under an upcoming ISS Crew Transportation Services contract. On 3 August 2018, NASA announced the crew for the DM-2 mission. The crew of two will be formed by NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley. Behnken previously flew as mission specialist on the STS-123 and the STS-130 missions. Hurley previously flew as a pilot on the STS-127 mission and on the final Space Shuttle mission, the STS-135 mission.
The first orbital test of Crew Dragon was an uncrewed mission, officially designated "Crew Demo-1" and launched on 2 March 2019. The spacecraft tested the approach and automated docking procedures with the ISS, remained docked until 8 March 2019, then conducted the full re-entry, splashdown and recovery steps to qualify for a crewed mission. Life-support systems were monitored all along the test flight. The same capsule was planned to be re-used in June 2019 for an in-flight abort test before it exploded on 20 April 2019.
Explosion during testing
On 20 April 2019, the Crew Dragon capsule used in the Demo-1 mission was destroyed in an explosion during static fire testing at the Landing Zone 1 facility. On the day of the explosion, the initial testing of the Crew Dragon's Draco thrusters was successful, with the anomaly occurring during the test of the SuperDraco abort system.
Telemetry, high-speed camera footage, and analysis of recovered debris indicate the problem occurred when a small amount of dinitrogen tetroxide leaked into a helium line used to pressurize the propellant tanks. The leakage apparently occurred during pre-test processing. As a result, the pressurization of the system 100 ms before firing damaged a check valve and resulted in the explosion.
Since the destroyed capsule had been slated for use in the upcoming in-flight abort test, the explosion and investigation delayed that test and the subsequent crewed orbital test.
The SuperDraco engine test that failed on 20 April 2019 was repeated successfully on 13 November 2019. The full duration static fire test of Crew Dragon's launch escape system took place at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at SpaceX's Landing Zone 1 at 20:08 UTC. The test was successful, showing that the modifications made to the vehicle to prevent a failure like the one that happened 20 April 2019 were successful. The vehicle used for this ground test would also be used for the following in-flight abort test.
Some of the modifications are:
- Replacement of the valves with burst discs: Unlike valves, burst discs are designed for single use.
- Addition of flaps on each SuperDraco in order to reseal the thrusters prior to splashdown in the ocean, preventing water intrusion.
In-flight abort test
The Crew Dragon in-flight abort test was launched on 19 January 2020 at 15:30 UTC from LC-39A on a suborbital trajectory to conduct a separation and abort scenario in the troposphere at transonic velocities shortly after passing through max Q, where the vehicle experiences maximum aerodynamic pressure. The Dragon 2 used its SuperDraco abort engines to push itself away from the Falcon 9 after an intentional premature engine cutoff. Ten seconds after Dragon 2 was jettisoned, the Falcon 9 exploded and was destroyed. The spacecraft followed its suborbital trajectory to apogee, at which point the spacecraft's trunk was jettisoned. The smaller Draco engines were then used to orient the vehicle for the descent. All major functions were executed, including separation, engine firings, parachute deployment, and landing. Dragon 2 splashed down at 15:38:54 UTC just off the Florida coast in the Atlantic Ocean. The test objective was to demonstrate the ability to safely move away from the ascending rocket under the most challenging atmospheric conditions of the flight trajectory, imposing the worst structural stress of a real flight on the rocket and spacecraft. The abort test was performed using a Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket with a fully fueled second stage with a mass simulator replacing the Merlin engine.
Earlier, this test had been scheduled before the uncrewed orbital test, however, SpaceX and NASA considered it safer to use a flight representative capsule rather than the test article from the pad abort test.
This test was previously planned to use the capsule C204 from Demo-1, however, C204 was destroyed in an explosion during a static fire testing on 20 April 2019. Capsule C205, originally planned for Demo-2 was used for the In-Flight Abort Test with C206 being planned for use during Demo-2. This was the final flight test of the spacecraft before it began carrying astronauts to the International Space Station under NASA's Commercial Crew Program.
Prior to the flight test, teams completed launch day procedures for the first crewed flight test, from suit-up to launch pad operations. The joint teams conducted full data reviews that needed to be completed prior to NASA astronauts flying on the system during SpaceX's Demo-2 mission.
Demo-2: crewed orbital flight test
On 17 April 2020, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced the first crewed Crew Dragon Demo-2 to the International Space Station would launch on 27 May 2020. Astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley crewed the mission, marking the first crewed launch to the International Space Station from U.S. soil since STS-135 in July 2011. The original launch was postponed to 30 May 2020 due to weather conditions at the launch site. The second launch attempt was successful, with capsule C206, later named Endeavour by the crew, launching on 30 May 2020 19:22 UTC. The capsule successfully docked with the International Space Station on 31 May 2020 at 14:27 UTC. On 2 August 2020, Crew Dragon undocked and splashed-down successfully in the ocean.
Launching in the Dragon 2 spacecraft was described by astronaut Bob Behnken as "smooth off the pad" but "we were definitely driving and riding a dragon all the way up ... a little bit less g's [than the Space Shuttle] but more 'alive' is probably the best way I would describe it".
Regarding descent in the spacecraft, Behnken stated, "Once we descended a little bit into the atmosphere, Dragon really came alive. It started to fire thrusters and keep us pointed in the appropriate direction. The atmosphere starts to make noise—you can hear that rumble outside the vehicle. And as the vehicle tries to control, you feel a little bit of that shimmy in your body. ... We could feel those small rolls and pitches and yaws—all those little motions were things we picked up on inside the vehicle. ... All the separation events, from the trunk separation through the parachute firings, were very much like getting hit in the back of the chair with a baseball bat ... pretty light for the trunk separation but with the parachutes it was a pretty significant jolt."
List of vehicles
|C201||DragonFly||Prototype||Retired||1||1m, 40s||Prototype used for pad abort test at Cape Canaveral and tethered hover tests at the McGregor Test Facility.|
|C202||Qual Module||Prototype||Retired||N/A||N/A||Pressure vessel qualification module used for structural testing.|
|C203||ECLSS Module||Prototype||Active[a]||N/A||N/A||Environmental Control & Life Support System module. Still used for human-in-the-loop testing.|
|C204||None||Crew||Destroyed||1||6d, 5h, 56m||First Dragon 2 to fly in space. Only flight was Crew Demo-1; destroyed during testing after the flight.|
|C205||TBA||Crew||Active||1||8m, 54s||First flown during the Crew Dragon In-Flight Abort Test; future use to be determined.|
|C206||Endeavour||Crew||Docked at ISS||2||63d, 23h, 25m||First vehicle to carry crew; named after Space Shuttle Endeavour. First flown during Crew Demo-2 with another flight for Crew-2.|
|C207||Resilience||Crew||Active||1||167d, 6h, 29m||First full-production Crew Dragon for Crew-1. Splashed down.|
|C208||N/A||Cargo||Active||1||38d, 9h, 9m||First Cargo Dragon 2, for SpaceX CRS-21. Splashed down. Assigned for SpaceX CRS-23.|
|C209||N/A||Cargo||Docked at ISS||1||TBD||Second Cargo Dragon 2, for SpaceX CRS-22.|
|C2XX||N/A||Cargo||Under construction||0||TBD||Cargo Dragon in production as noted by Gwynne Shotwell after the Crew-1 launch on 15 November 2020.|
|C2XX||TBA||Crew||Under construction||0||TBD||Crew Dragons in production as noted by Gwynne Shotwell after the Crew-1 launch on 15 November 2020.|
List of flights
List includes only completed or currently manifested missions. Launch dates are listed in UTC.
Crew Dragon flights
|Mission||Patch||Capsule||Launch date||Landing date||Description||Crew||Outcome|
|Pad Abort Test||C201 DragonFly||6 May 2015||6 May 2015||Pad Abort Test, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.||N/A||Success|
|Demo-1||C204||2 March 2019||8 March 2019||Uncrewed test flight of the Crew Dragon capsule; docked 3 March 2019, 08:50 UTC; departed 8 March 2019, 05:32 UTC.||N/A||Success|
|In-Flight Abort Test||C205.1||19 January 2020||19 January 2020||Used the capsule originally planned for Demo-2.||N/A||Success|
|Demo-2||C206.1 Endeavour||30 May 2020||2 August 2020||First crewed flight test of Dragon capsule. The mission was extended from two weeks to nine, in order to allow the crew to bolster activity on the ISS ahead of Crew-1, including partaking in four spacewalks.||Success|
|Crew-1||C207.1 Resilience||16 November 2020||2 May 2021||First operational Commercial Crew flight, flying four astronauts to the ISS for a six-month mission. Roscosmos had not yet certified the Crew Dragon vehicle, so a third NASA astronaut was added instead of a Russian cosmonaut. Broke the record for the longest spaceflight by a U.S. crew vehicle, previously held by the Skylab 4 mission.||Success|
|Crew-2||C206.2 ♺ Endeavour||23 April 2021||31 October 2021 (planned)||Docked to the ISS for a six-month mission. NASA agreed to allow SpaceX to reuse a booster and capsule for this flight.||Docked at ISS|
|Inspiration4||C207.2 ♺ Resilience||NET 15 September 2021||18 September 2021 (planned)||The first all-civilian mission to orbit. The flight will reach a 540 km orbit and conduct science experiments and public outreach activities for 3 days.||||Planned|
|Crew-3||TBA||NET 23 October 2021||NET Q2 2022||Will transport four astronauts to the ISS for a six-month mission. NASA agreed to allow SpaceX to reuse boosters and capsules for this flight.||Planned|
|Space Adventures mission||TBA||NET Q4 2021||Q4 2021||Up to four space tourists in a flight between 3 and 5 days, on an elliptical orbit with the apogee three times that of the ISS, higher than the Earth orbital altitude record set by Gemini 11 in 1966.||Planned|
|AX-1||C207.3 Resilience||January 2022||January 2022||First Crew Dragon flight contracted by Axiom Space. First fully private flight to the ISS, carrying Michael López-Alegría as Axiom professional astronaut, Eytan Stibbe to conduct educational experiments for a 10-day trip, Larry Connor and Mark Pathy, both heading investment companies.||Planned|
|Crew-4||TBA||NET 1 April 2022||NET Q4 2022||The fourth flight contracted under CCP contract.|| Kjell Lindgren
|AX-2||TBA||Fall 2022||Fall 2022||Second Crew Dragon flight contracted by Axiom Space. Second fully private flight to the ISS, carrying Peggy Whitson as Axiom professional astronaut.||Planned|
|Crew-5||TBA||NET 2022||NET 2023||The fifth flight contracted under CCP contract.|| TBA
|Crew-6||TBA||NET 2023||NET 2023||The sixth flight contracted under CCP contract.|| TBA
|AX-3||TBA||2023||2023||Third Crew Dragon flight contracted by Axiom Space.||TBA
|AX-4||TBA||2023||2023||Fourth Crew Dragon flight contracted by Axiom Space.||TBA
Cargo Dragon flights
|Mission||Patch||Capsule||Launch date||Landing date||Description||Outcome|
|CRS-21||C208.1||6 December 2020||14 January 2021||First SpaceX mission performed under the CRS-2 contract with NASA and the first flight of Cargo Dragon 2. Delivered the NanoRacks Bishop Airlock Module to the ISS along with 6,400 pounds of cargo.||Success|
|CRS-22||C209.1||3 June 2021||July 2021 (planned)||Second Cargo Dragon 2 flight to the ISS; will deliver solar arrays iROSA 1 and iROSA 2||Docked at ISS|
|CRS-23||C208.2 ♺||18 August 2021 (planned)||Third Cargo Dragon 2 flight to the ISS||Planned|
|CRS-24||TBA||NET December 2021||Fourth Cargo Dragon 2 flight to the ISS||Planned|
|CRS-25||TBA||NET April 2022||Fifth Cargo Dragon 2 flight to the ISS; will deliver iROSA 3 and iROSA 4||Planned|
|CRS-26||TBA||NET Q3 2022||Sixth Cargo Dragon 2 flight to the ISS; will deliver iROSA 5 and iROSA 6||Planned|
- Comparison of crewed space vehicles
- Comparison of space station cargo vehicles
- List of crewed spacecraft
- Private spaceflight – Spaceflight that is conducted and paid for by an entity other than a government agency
- Ground test module only
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