The Southern California company that has sent unmanned capsules to the International Space Station unveiled a cone-headed spacecraft designed to ferry up to seven astronauts to low-Earth orbit.
But unlike its space traveling predecessors, the Dragon V2 would not be rendered unusable after returning through Earth's atmosphere in a fireball. The capsule could be reloaded and reused, saving on the cost of multiple missions.
"You can just reload, propel it and fly again," said SpaceX founder Elon Musk. "This is extremely important for revolutionizing 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.
- Images: Inside New SpaceX Capsule
He likened throwing away a spaceflight vehicle to discarding a commercial airliner after landing.
"If an aircraft is thrown away with each flight, nobody will be able to fly or very few (can)," Musk said Thursday at the company's Hawthorne, California headquarters. "The same is true with rockets and spacecraft."
In a NASA briefing with reporters last year, Musk said Dragon V2 would look futuristic like an "alien spaceship" and promised "it's going to be cool." The capsule has landing legs that pop out and a propulsion system that allows it to land almost anywhere once it returns to Earth after a run to the Space Station.
The sleek and roomy -- relative to previous space capsules -- interior has swing-up computer screen and two-level seating to accommodate up to seven astronauts. Large, round windows would provide a sweeping view of space.
The cone-shaped cap allows for docking with the Space Station. The spacecraft also has more powerful engines, better heat shields, the landing legs and backup parachutes to ensure a soft landing, Musk said.
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NASA has depended on Russian rockets to transport astronauts to orbit and back, paying nearly $71 million per seat, since the shuttle fleet retired in 2011. The space agency has said it wants U.S. companies to fill the void by 2017 and has doled out seed money to spur innovation.
SpaceX -- short for Space Exploration Technologies Corp. -- has made four cargo runs to the giant orbiting outpost about 200 miles above Earth. Just last month, its Dragon capsule splashed into the Pacific, returning nearly 2 tons of science experiments and old equipment.
Companies competing for the right to ferry station astronauts need to design a spacecraft that can seat a crew of four or more and be equipped with life support systems and an escape hatch in case of emergency.
SpaceX and longtime NASA contractor Boeing Co. are "more or less neck and neck" in the competition, but there's a long way to go before astronauts can rocket out of the atmosphere on private spacecraft, John Logsdon, professor emeritus of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, told the Associated Press.