SpaceX Continues to Develop Human-Rated Dragon
(Source: Forecast International; issued March 15, 2018)
NEWTOWN, Conn. --- Development of the first version of the Dragon has been completed, SpaceX is now using it to conduct routine resupply missions to the International Space Station (ISS). Furthermore, SpaceX reused a Dragon for the first time in 2017. The June mission, designated CRS-11, utilized a Dragon spacecraft that had been used to carry supplies to the ISS in September 2014.

According to SpaceX CEO, Elon Musk, the mission was actually not cheaper for SpaceX than those that use a brand-new Dragon, demonstrating the difficulty in refurbishing reusable spacecraft. However, he expects that as the company learns from practice, costs will gradually lower for each future mission that reuses a Dragon spacecraft.

SpaceX's efforts to develop a human-rated Dragon received a major boost in September 2014 when NASA selected the company, along with Boeing, for the next round of commercial crew contracts. Under the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) program, SpaceX will receive $2.8 billion to complete development and begin operational flights of the Dragon. The Dragon was also selected under NASA's CRS-2 program to continue its role of carrying cargo to the ISS.

Development under the CCtCap program has been slow. SpaceX had to make changes to allow the Dragon to make ocean landings. There were also problems with the parachutes and with the tunnel that will connect the Dragon with the ISS. An independent safety panel has also recommended that SpaceX not fly until Falcon 9 helium tanks can be redesigned. These delays have pushed back planned test flights from 2017 to late 2018. Operational flights may not occur until well into 2019 now.

Despite setbacks, Forecast International expects use of Dragon capsules to continue. Reusing spacecraft will lower overall production rates. However, over time, spacecraft will need to be replaced. In addition, SpaceX markets the Dragon for both government and commercial missions, so the company may eventually need to expand its fleet of vehicles. Forecast International expects new spacecraft to be produced periodically during the 2020s and into the 2030s.

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