Dragon Spacecraft


SpaceX Dragon is a private spacecraft that can carry cargo and crew to the ISS and other destinations. It is launched to orbit by the Falcon rocket. It was developed by SpaceX under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program.

SpaceX DragonRider and Cargo Dragon spacecraft picture

DragonRider, crewed variant of Dragon (top right) and Dragon cargo variant (bottom) connected to the ISS.

The Dragon capsule can transport five to seven crew members or up to ten metric tons of cargo.

Dragon spacecraft is made up of a pressurized capsule and unpressurized trunk used for Earth to LEO transport of pressurized cargo, unpressurized cargo, and/or crew members.

The Dragon spacecraft is comprised of 3 main elements:

  1. Nosecone – protects the vessel and the docking adaptor during ascent;
  2. Spacecraft – houses the crew and/or pressurized cargo as well as the service section containing avionics, the RCS system, parachutes and other support infrastructure and
  3. Trunk – provides for the stowage of unpressurized cargo and will support Dragon’s solar arrays and thermal radiators.


Diameter: 3.6 m (12.1 ft)
Height: 6.1 meters (20 ft)
Total Return Payload: 3000kg (6,614 lbs)
Total Launch Payload Mass: 6000kg (13,228 lbs)

Dragon is powered by a combination of solar panels and an advanced lithium battery. It uses 18 liquid fuel thrusters equipped with nitrogen tetroxide and monomethyl hydrazine to maneuver while in orbit. Like NASA’s Orion spacecraft, the conical shape of the Dragon capsule is deemed the best for Earth re-entry, while allowing for a sizeable interior.

About the Dragon Variants 

Various version have been created of Dragon. It is capable of free-flying and can be a reusable spacecraft, depending on the version.

  1. Dragon 1: Original unmanned version.
  2. Dragon 2: SpaceX. It was formerly called DragonRider. Will the 1st Private Manned Spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) be SpaceX Dragon?
  3. Dragonlab is a is reusable and free-flying uncrewed version of the Dragon spacecraft. It will be used for non-NASA and non International Space Station commercial flights.
  4. Red Dragon is an unmanned SpaceX Dragon 2 capsule for landing on Mars. It will be launched by the Falcon Heavy rocket.


With the NASA Space Shuttle retired in 2011, several companies competed to become NASA’s choice for cargo and crew transportation to the International Space Station. In 2006 and 2009, NASA awarded the SpaceX company two contracts totaling more than $2 billion paving the way for the dragon capsule to complete its first successful orbit and re-entry in December 2010.

In December 2008, NASA announced the selection of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launch vehicle and Dragon spacecraft to resupply the International Space Station (ISS) when the Space Shuttle retires. The $1.6 billion contract represents a minimum of 12 flights, with an option to order additional missions for a cumulative total contract value of up to $3.1 billion.

In May 2012, Dragon became the first commercially developed space vehicle to be launched to the International Space Station (ISS). Dragon became the First Commercial Spacecraft to attach to the Space Station in May 2012. Dragon spent about a week docked with the ISS before returning to Earth on May 31 for retrieval.

Dragon over Rocky Mountains

SpaceX’s Dragon capsule splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 11:42 am EDT on Thursday 31st May 2012 a few hundred miles west of Baja California, Mexico, marking a successful end to the first mission by a commercial company to resupply the International Space Station.

SpaceX Dragon capsule splashes to a safe landing in the Pacific.

SpaceX Dragon Missions to ISS

  1. SpaceX CRS-1…. 1st Commercial Resupply Mission to the International Space Station in Oct 2012.
  2. SpaceX CRS-2: It was launched 1 March 1, 2013. Released from ISS on 26 March, 2013 at 10:56 GMT and splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 16:34 GMT.
  3. SpaceX CRS-3:  Launched 18 March 2014. First launch of a Dragon capsule on the Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket.
  4. SpaceX CRS-4: Launched 21 September 2014. Payload included the first 3D printer to be tested in space. This mission also included the launch of 20 mice as part of NASA experiment.
  5. SpaceX CRS-5: Launched 10 January 2015.
  6. SpaceX CRS-6: Launched 14 April 2015.
  7. SpaceX CRS-7: Launched 28 June 2015. IDA-1, the first International Docking Adapter for the International Space Station was scheduled to be delivered this flight, but was lost due to launch failure.
  8. SpaceX CRS-8: Launched 8 April 2016. Payload to the ISS included Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM).
  9. SpaceX CRS-9: Launched 18 July 2016. Payload included IDA-2 (International Docking Adapter-2), the NASA Docking System.
  10. SpaceX CRS-10: Launched on 19 February 2017. First launch from Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39 Pad A since the Shuttle was retired. The last vehicle to use it was on final flight of Space Shuttle mission STS-135 on 8 July, 2011.
  11. SpaceX CRS-11: – Launch date – 1 June 2017
  12. SpaceX CRS-12: – Launch date – 11 August 2017
  13. SpaceX CRS-13: – Launch date – late 2017
  14. SpaceX CRS-14: – next mission – launch date?

IDA-3 is planned to be launched on the Dragon CRS-14.

Did you know?

* The Falcon 9 is powered nine Merlin engines.

SpaceX Dragon Links:

Dragon: by SpaceX
Crew Dragon | SpaceX
Dragon – Spacecraft & Satellites: by Spaceflight101

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