Elon Musk’s human-transporting space pod came one step closer to reality on Monday. The SpaceX CEO shared an image of the company’s next-generation Dragon capsule in a wave-absorbing anechoic chamber as part of tests to check for electromagnetic interference. After this stage, the futuristic pod will ship to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s vacuum chamber at the Plum Brook Station in Cleveland, Ohio.
The tests are a key step in SpaceX’s overall mission to explore the cosmos. The Dragon crew capsule is a fully autonomous spacecraft that can carry seven humans to destinations like the International Space Station and the moon. The project builds on the cargo-only Dragon that has completed a series of scientific missions, and the pressure is on to ensure the capsule is safe for humans. The administration describes the Plum Brook facilities as the “world’s largest and most powerful space environment simulation,” with the vacuum chamber measuring 100 feet in diameter by 122 feet in height.
The crewed Dragon is a spectacle. It can land on Earth for refueling and reuse, a central aim of the company’s mission as it seeks to cut costs and fund more ambitious goals. The four windows will provide a pleasant view of space for passengers, packed with a Phenolic Impregnated Carbon Ablator-X heat shield for re-entry, and eight SuperDraco engines can produce 120,000 pounds of axial thrust for an emergency escape that carries passengers over half a kilometer away in over five seconds. Inside, carbon fiber seats with Alcantara cloth complement digital displays show real-time information while support systems keep temperatures between 65 and 80 degrees.
SpaceX has yet to send humans into space, but it’s planning to send people to Mars in around six years’ time. Musk initially planned to send two private citizens to the Moon using the crewed Dragon at some point later this year, but comments in February suggest the project has taken a backseat to building the BFR that can travel to Mars. The company has already designed a spacesuit for its potential astronauts.
Musk has outlined a rigorous testing schedule for the crewed Dragon. On May 2, Musk shared on Twitter that he expects the pod to ship to Cape Canaveral, Florida, around August for a demonstration mission.
This could be one giant leap for SpaceX.