Sunday, May 20, 2012

SpaceX Dragon spacecraft

SpaceX is developing a family of launch vehicles intended to reduce the cost and increase the reliability of access to space ultimately by a factor of ten. Their design and manufacturing facilities are located in Southern California, near the Los Angeles airport, and their propulsion development and structural test facilities are located in Central Texas.

With the Falcon 1, Falcon 5 and Falcon 9 launch vehicles, SpaceX is able to offer light, medium and heavy lift capabilities. They are able to deliver spacecraft into any inclination and altitude, from low Earth orbit to geosynchronous orbit to planetary missions.

The Falcon 9 is intended to be a fully reusable, 2 stage launch vehicle powered by LOX/RP engines. The first stage generates 765,0001bf of thrust (sea-level) using nine Merlin 1C engines, and the second stage generates 96,0001bf (vacuum) using a single Merlin 1C engine. Both stages use gimbaled engines for guidance. Like some vehicles in the Apollo program, Falcon 9 offers engine-out capability (for the first stage).

The Dragon spacecraft has a flexible cargo and crew configuration and is recoverable. Pressurized cargo will be transported inside the capsule while unpressurized cargo will be located in the “trunk.” The crew configuration will be able to accommodate up to 7 crew members per flight.

Besides containing all the functions required to support crew or pressurized cargo, Dragon also contains much of which might be found in a typical "service module", including reaction control thrusters, GN&C, command & data handling, telemetry & communications, ISS proximity operations sensors, power & thermal control, entry, descent, landing, locator & emergency equipment and environmental control and life support sub-systems. The Dragon spacecraft design is structurally identical for both the cargo and crew configurations, the only difference being the internal outfitting and some subsystems. For cargo launches the inside of the capsule is outfitted with a modular cargo rack system designed to accommodate pressurized cargo in standard sizes and form factors based on the Space Shuttle Mid-deck Locker Equivalent specifications. For crewed launches, the interior is outfitted with crew couches, controls with manual override capability and upgraded life support. Keeping the cargo and crewed versions of Dragon similar minimizes the design effort.

The basic configuration for each launch is that at the top of the stack is the Dragon spacecraft. Below this is an unpressurized sleeve (the 'trunk') which serves to support the pressurized capsule during ascent and also contains a truss structure designed to hold unpressurized cargo.

After berthing with the ISS and delivering cargo or crew, Dragon is re-loaded with crew or down-cargo. Once reloaded, Dragon is un-berthed, departs the ISS and performs a de-orbit bum, jettisons the unpressurized section, and performs a guided re-entry and splash-down under parachute. SpaceX will perform ocean recovery, delivering crew and/or cargo to NASA.

SpaceX Dragon spacecraft

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TEXT CREDIT: NASA Commercial Crew & Cargo Program Office

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