SpaceX has unveiled a new spacecraft that it hopes will one day allow Americans to once again carry astronauts to the International Space Station, an ability currently limited to Russia.
The Dragon V2 “is really a big leap forward in technology”, said SpaceX CEO Elon Musk in Hawthorne, California where the new model was shown to a jam-packed press conference.
The white Dragon V2 looks like a slimmer, sleeker version of the gumdrop-shaped Dragon capsule that in 2012 became the first private spacecraft to carry supplies to the ISS and back.
The spacecraft has room for seven astronauts.
It is capable of docking with the space station autonomously or under pilot.
Musk said it will be able to “land anywhere on Earth with the accuracy of a helicopter”.
It also has the advantage of a quick turn-around time and can make up to 10 trips before requiring servicing.
Ever since the US space shuttle program ended in 2011, the world's astronauts have depended on Russia's Soyuz spacecraft to reach the ISS, an orbiting outpost built and maintained by more than a dozen countries.
SpaceX has said its crew capsule may be able to reach the ISS with astronauts aboard by 2017, the date set by NASA.
The US space agency currently pays Russia more than $70m-a-seat to send astronauts to the space station on Soyuz craft.