By the time the military starts buying the next generation of space-shuttle spacecraft, the Pentagon will be equipped with at least four of the more capable and affordable versions of the Dragon spacecraft, a defense official told lawmakers on Thursday.
The new spacecraft will be built by Lockheed Martin and be based on the Lockheed-Martin Atlas 5 rocket, the top-of-the-line rocket that has been the backbone of the U.S. military’s space program for decades.
The Atlas 5 will be a powerful and highly capable rocket, capable of lifting heavy payloads to low Earth orbit, said a Pentagon official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the development.
It is designed to fly a wide variety of payloads, including payloads for the Space Launch System rocket, an advanced military missile that will launch satellites for the United States and other nations.
But the next version of the rocket is also designed to be capable of carrying a single Dragon spacecraft into orbit, the official said.
The next version is expected to have four, with a launch mass of about 1,200 pounds.
The Pentagon official said the new rocket will carry six crew capsules into orbit.
Each Dragon capsule will carry three crew members and four cargo modules, including a fuel tank, a spacecraft communication system, and the Dragon 2 communications module, the same vehicle that will carry the next-generation Dragon spacecraft.
The U.N. Outer Space Treaty requires that nations must have at least two crew capsules.
The government is currently working on a contract to buy the fifth and final Dragon capsule.
The final version will carry eight crew members, including four crew members from Russia, three crew from China, and three crew crew from South Korea, according to the defense official.
The Defense Department said the cost of the fifth Dragon is expected be about $3 billion.
The fifth and last Dragon spacecraft will launch on a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, the defense officials said.
The next generation Dragon spacecraft could carry a payload capacity of about 500 metric tons, the officials said, which is equivalent to about 300 to 400 people.
The official said that the government has already started work on the design of the next Dragon spacecraft and that Lockheed Martin is working on designing the new vehicle and its engines.
Lockheed Martin, the company that built the Atlas 5, has worked on the Atlas rockets for decades, and a new Dragon spacecraft would be the first rocket built by the company in the United Kingdom, the Defense official said, speaking on condition that he not be identified by name.
The Boeing-Lockheed joint venture is working to develop a second-generation rocket, which the Pentagon officials called the Falcon Heavy, that would carry the Dragon 1 and Dragon 2 spacecraft, according the defense sources.
That second-gen rocket would be built using the Atlas V rocket that is being used by the Air Force.
Lockheed has been working on developing that rocket since last year, when Boeing and Lockheed Martin announced the first Falcon Heavy rocket would fly in 2019, according this official.
The Lockheed-Lockham venture has also been developing a third-generation launcher called the Atlas 7.
Lockheed said the company has been developing that vehicle for at least five years.
The company is still working on that vehicle.
The third-gen Falcon Heavy is expected in service by 2021, the Lockheed officials said in the briefing.
The third-grade rocket is expected have a mass of 200 metric tons and will carry about 500 people.
The fourth-grade Falcon Heavy will carry between 200 and 300 people, the Air Warfighting Command official said in a briefing with reporters.
The Air Force is still developing the fourth-generation Falcon Heavy to fly to space in 2021, he said.
Lockheed Martin has been producing the first-generation Atlas 5 rockets for more than 20 years, with the last two engines producing up to 250 metric tons of thrust each.
Lockheed is also working on an engine that can produce up to 500 metric ton thrust.
The engine would be a version of a first-stage engine used in the Atlas 3 rocket that carried the first Delta IV heavy rocket to space.