Private US space transportation company SpaceX has unveiled a new version of its Dragon capsule designed to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station.
The capsule, put on public display at Los Angeles International Airport, California, features landing legs and a propulsion system designed to land manned spacecraft anywhere on land. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said during the presentation the landing system is capable of the same accuracy as a helicopter. The capsule was designed to be reusable, which should help reduce cost of space transportation.
"This is extremely important for revolutionising access to space because as long as we continue to throw away rockets and space crafts, we will never truly have access to space it'll always be incredibly expensive," Musk said.
The SpaceX concept is not the first reusable space transportation system. Nasa’s Space Shuttles were reusable with the exception of their external tanks. However, the cost of refurbishment and maintenance between flights resulted in the programme being extremely expensive.
The new Dragon capsule also offers a sleek interior with swing-up computer screens at the control station, a two-level seating system to accommodate up to seven astronauts and large windows for them to enjoy the view on Earth from space.
Since the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2011, Nasa has been completely dependent on Russia to transport astronauts to the International Space Station, paying nearly £42m per seat.
With the tension between the West and Russia intensifying in the wake of the Ukrainian crisis, the pressure on Nasa is growing to speed up the development of a new vehicle for crew transportation.
SpaceX has already completed four cargo runs to the orbital outpost with the unmanned version of Dragon and awaits a major funding decision by Nasa regarding its crew vehicle.