The private space industry took a major step forward this week, as SpaceX finally unveiled its cutting-edge new Dragon V2 spacecraft. Since the shuttle program is kaput, it might be the U.S.'s best domestic route back to space.
The Dragon V2 should be capable of carrying seven astronauts for several days, ferrying them to and from the International Space Station and automatically docking with the station. It can also land “almost anywhere on Earth” via its on-board propulsion system.
The design looks sleek, and even the interior looks like something straight out of science fiction. If this thing works half as well as it looks, the future is looking extremely bright. The V2 replaces the much smaller original Dragon, which is currently being used to ferry equipment and supplies to the ISS.
SpaceX founder Elon Musk said he believes the ship will be ready for manned flight in 2016, a full year ahead of NASA’s proposed schedule. The V2 was developed as part of NASA's Commercial Crew Development program, which stipulates that competing private firms develop crafts capable of ferrying at least four people into space. SpaceX’s vessel was developed in parallel with competing projects by Boeing, Blue Origin and Sierra Nevada.
As the splashy demonstration showed on Thursday night, most consider SpaceX ahead of the pack at the moment —and we’re dying to see more of the V2 in action.