SpaceX today announced NASA approval of its preliminary design for a launch abort system that would allow Dragon capsules to fly astronauts.
The system will build escape engines into the Dragon's side walls rather than use a tower with motors that would pull it off the rocket, like NASA's Orion capsule.
SpaceX says the reusable system will save money and eliminate the need to jettison an abort tower during a nominal flight. The engines could also be used eventually for a landing on land instead of water.
NASA approved the preliminary design under a program helping four companies develop commercially operated spacecraft that could transport astronauts to and from the International Space Station by the middle of the decade.
NASA will pay SpaceX up to $75 million in the second round of the Commercial Crew Development program, with payments awarded upon completion of specific milestones. The Hawthorne, Calif.-based company has completed four of 10 milestones to date.
The Dragon is expected to begin delivering cargo to the station next year, and is being upgraded for crewed missions.
IMAGE: The new launch abort system provides crew with emergency escape capability throughout the entire flight and returns with the spacecraft, allowing for easy reuse. Credit: SpaceX