LOS ANGELES — SpaceX is literally pulling the curtain away on Thursday from its Dragon V2 spaceship, an upgraded version of its workhorse capsule that could soon start carrying astronauts into orbit — and you can watch the curtain drop online.
The venture founded by billionaire Elon Musk is planning the curtain drop as the climax of a briefing to be held at its headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif., starting at 7 p.m. PT (10 p.m. ET). The event will be streamed live via http://www.spacex.com/webcast.
The unveiling marks the start of a new chapter for human spaceflight: In the wake of the space shuttle fleet's retirement in 2011, SpaceX and two other companies — the Boeing Co. and Sierra Nevada Corp. — are receiving more than a billion dollars from NASA to develop "space taxis" capable of carrying astronauts to and from the International Space Station.
NASA wants the taxis to start flying by 2017 or 2018. In the meantime, the space agency has to pay the Russians more than $70 million a seat to send astronauts to the space station on Soyuz spaceships.
The current, uncrewed version of the Dragon is already being used to transport cargo to and from the station. The most recent resupply mission wrapped up earlier this month. But NASA requires additional upgrades for crewed journeys — principally, a system that would give the crew an option to abort in case something went wrong during the launch and ascent from the pad.
SpaceX's solution is to install a "pusher" thruster system on the Dragon capsule, which currently looks like a truncated cone. In the event of an emergency, SpaceX's SuperDraco thrusters would fire up to guide the capsule through separation from the Falcon 9 rocket and a flight to safety.
Just this week, the company announced that the SuperDracos had passed qualification tests for flight.
The Dragon V2 thruster system is expected to change the look of the spacecraft, as suggested by leaked photos of wind-tunnel test models. When the curtain drops, we'll know for sure.