In May 2020, SpaceX became the world’s first private company to launch human beings into orbit. It is the first time in a decade when Americans made it to space aboard an American vehicle launched in the U.S.A.
But the success of this commercially developed spacecraft means even more. The triumph of this relatively lightweight and reusable spacecraft has led many aerospace engineers to suggest SpaceX should send Dragon or much larger and expensive vehicles to Moon.
Advocates say that after its successful landing, Crew Dragon has proven itself. With several modifications, the spacecraft could be beefed up for longer-duration and critical missions to carry astronauts to lunar orbit and then safely back to Earth.
But is that possible that Dragon could be sent for the Moon landing? In this post, we will discuss the same.
Let’s begin by understanding the features of SpaceX Dragon that make engineers probe it for the Moon landing.
The SpaceX Dragon Capsule
The Elon Musk’s SpaceX sent its Crew Dragon Capsule into space abroad its Falcon 9 rocket. The flight was docked on May 30 and splashed down on Earth on August 2. SpaceX’s reusable rocket took off and landed safely and efficiently. The rocket settled down in the Atlantic Ocean and is now ready to be used again.
Crew Dragon is the first space vehicle to replace antiquated knobs and buttons with touch-screen controls. The capsule can fly entirely autonomously from launch to docking to landing, without involving human crew.
There are significant cost considerations, as well. The cost to NASA for launching one man into space was about $200 million, compared with just $60-67 million on the Dragon capsule.
It cost nearly $55,000 for a space shuttle to send one kilogram of cargo into space. With the Falcon rocket, the cost is below $3,000.
Finally, compared to the space shuttles that cost about $30 billion to develop, the Crew Dragon cost just around $2 billion, making it the cheapest spacecraft in six decades.
The Probability of Dragon’s Landing on Moon
The Moon landing is a two-rocket situation – Sending the Dragon to lunar orbit and to send the lander.
Weighing just 20 percent more than the Apollo capsule and with 50 percent more internal space, the Crew Dragon capsule is sufficiently large. Moreover, the Falcon Heavy launcher could send it to a low lunar orbit with a pre-set return stage.
The Falcon Heavy rocket can lift Crew Dragon into lunar orbit. It would dock with a lunar lander to carry the crew to the surface while the Crew Dragon remains in the low lunar orbit. After landing on the Moon, astronauts would return to the Crew Dragon in the lander and fire the return stage to come home to Earth.
But, as mentioned above, the Crew Dragon will still need substantial but feasible modifications. For instance, the spacecraft needs a new communication and navigation system. In terms of radiation, the spacecraft needs some work for hardening electronics. The heat shield can be reworked to make it capable of returning from the Moon relatively safe and easy. Also, the Falcon Heavy needs safety upgrades for increased reliability for such a critical mission.
Moreover, the spirit of competition is rapidly revolutionizing the space travel world. Musk is also planning to set far beyond Earth orbit. SpaceX is working on a larger version of the reusable Falcon 9 spacecraft called Super Heavy.
The rocket will carry the Starship capsule that is capable of carrying a crew of nearly 100 people along with the cargo to the Moon, Mars, and even far beyond. Starship is projected to be the most powerful space vehicle ever launched in the world, with its ability to carry a weight of more than 100 metric tonnes to the orbit of Earth.
With a payload compartment larger than all currently in development or operation, SpaceX’s Starship creates possibilities for new missions, including the Moon landing of Dragon.
Considering the innovations that SpaceX is working on, it seems the company may soon launch a modified and upgraded version of Dragon capable of landing on the Moon’s surface within the mid of the next decade.
Just after the triumph of Dragon, SpaceX scored another success when its Starship vehicle landed successfully. The company also successfully launched satellites for its Starlink constellation.