NASA is preparing to launch its first spacecraft in 2018 with a new propulsion system that promises to put payloads of about 200 kilograms into low Earth orbit.
The Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) company is expected to send the Dragon cargo capsule into orbit in March, according to an announcement by the agency’s Commercial Orbital Services division.
The new engine will propel the Dragon to a top speed of 2,100 kilometers per hour (1,800 mph) at an altitude of about 250 kilometers (155 miles), according to the announcement, which was made on Saturday (Feb. 17).
The Dragon spacecraft, which is scheduled to fly in 2021, will carry about 200 pounds of cargo for NASA, the agency said.
NASA officials say the Dragon will be the first spacecraft to carry humans into low orbit.
In December, the company announced that it was working on a new engine for its spacecraft.
The company also recently announced that its Dragon spacecraft would be the fifth to launch in 2021.
According to the agency, the new engine is capable of delivering payloads to low-Earth orbit at a speed of about 600 kilometers per minute (370 mph), which would be enough to reach an orbit of about 400 kilometers (270 miles).
“Dragon is the next step in a long history of commercial human exploration, and the new propulsion technology offers significant opportunities for NASA and the commercial sector to work together to advance the commercial crew program,” NASA administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement.NASA said the new Dragon engine will have four major components: a solid rocket motor, a liquid hydrogen-fueled rocket engine, two liquid-fuel rockets and a cryogenic upper stage.
The new engine was developed at the Johnson Space Center, the space agency said in the statement.