Two of The Brickmuppet's Crack Team of Science Babes react to the awesomeness that is unveiling of The Dragon Mk2 capsule by SPACE-X founder Elon Musk.
If it works as advertised it will be a huge advance on all previous space vehicles in a number of areas.
While it lacks the shuttles cargo bay, it can cary just as many astronauts (7). and looks surprisingly roomy. It can land anywhere as opposed to the two or three airports the space shuttle could use and it is designed with very quick turnaround times in mind. This is significant as the shuttle, while technically resuseable, had to be rebuilt after each flight at great expense. Indeed, refurbishing the solid rocket boosters cost more than simply making disposable ones, and contributed to the O-Ring design that doomed the crew of Challenger,
Of course reusing the capsule offers limited cost savings if the booster is thrown away. At least one Gemini capsule was flown in space twice and that did not make it a viable commercial system. To that end SPACE-X plans to reuse the first and second stages of Falcon 9 boosters it will use to boost both Dragon capsules and unmanned satellites into space.
The boosters will cary enough extra fuel to soft land at the launch point, the second stage actually doing one full orbit. This is wasteful of fuel, and reduces payload but makes up for it in preserving the hardware (kerosene is cheap).
We've covered the tests here before, but a few months ago the Dragonfly Grasshopper test vehicle made the last of its many flights, reaching an altitude of a kilometer.
Future versions will have retractable landing legs for streamlining during high speed tests and Falcon launches starting with the one this past April, are being fitted with the retractable legs to work out any bugs before the full up re-useable tests begin.
This is a logical and step by step approach that has as much likelihood as anything of succeeding. In a decade or so we may finally have the space hotels, moon bases, asteroid mines and Mars missions we were promised in our youth.