SpaceX is flying high these days, literally and figuratively, the Dragon capsule completed its second resupply mission to the ISS and the company is hard at work at its next-generation spacecraft and rockets.We've already seen the Grasshopper, a reusable first stage rocket, being tested several times, but SpaceX has more up its sleeve.
After the successful splashdown of the Dragon capsule, following its successful mission to the ISS, SpaceX's Elon Musk talked a bit about Dragon 2, the spacecraft that is supposed to replace the current one.
Dragon 2 will be bigger than the current spacecraft, that much isn't a surprise, but it will also be more suitable to human flights, for example it has bigger windows.
More importantly, it will be able to land on, well, land, it will have thrusters and retractable legs which will make it possible for the craft to land at its homebase.
Currently, the Dragon has to splashdown in the sea. Then, it has to be recovered and shipped back to SpaceX. All of this is expensive and time consuming.
Having a spacecraft that can land on its own at homebase would be a huge step towards a fully reusable system, especially as SpaceX is working on reusable rockets as well.
In fact, the Grasshopper is the prototype for the next-generation Falcon 9 which, while more powerful, about 60 percent more powerful, will also be able to reuse its first stage, making launches significantly cheaper.
All of these are years away, things move slow in the space launch business, even if you are SpaceX, and for obvious reasons.
All of the technologies require thorough testing and things can and do go wrong at these stages. That's to ensure that actual launches go smoothly. The Dragon had some problems early during its second resupply mission as the thrusters would not ignite.