SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft is getting ready to launch astronauts to the ISS this year
Earlier this month, SpaceX rolled out their Crew Dragon spacecraft on top of their Falcon 9 rocket for fit checks at the launchpad for the spacecraft and the Crew Access Arm. As of now there is no firm launch date since they cannot launch until the Government is no longer shutdown, causing some major delays.
Crew Dragon is SpaceX's first ever spacecraft that will carry Astronauts from US soil to the International Space Station for the first time since 2011, when the Space Shuttle retired. SpaceX is flying these astronauts under NASA's Commercial Crew Program, which also has Boeing developing their CST-100 Starliner spacecraft for the same purposes. Crew Dragon is able to carry 7 Astronauts and some cargo.
Something neat about Crew Dragon is that the launch escape system is built into the capsule. Instead of a traditional launch escape tower, it features 4 pods of SuperDraco thrusters, with 2 engines per pod (8 engines total). In the event of an abort, all 8 engines will fire up and carry the capsule and crew to safety. These engines were previously also planned to propulsively land the spacecraft and crew on land, but was abandoned due to requirements against landing legs in the heat shield as well as other safety concerns.
Another feature of Crew Dragon is that it has a nose cone that hinges to protect the docking adapter and can be reused. A difference between Crew Dragon and their current Cargo Dragon is that Crew Dragon autonomously docks with the space station while Cargo Dragon needs to be grappled by the arm on the space station and berthed to the docking port. Before Crew Dragon docks, it'll open up the nose cone on the top revealing the docking adapter so it can dock to the ISS.
Lastly is the trunk on the bottom of the spacecraft which has the solar arrays to power everything as well as the ability to carry experiments and payloads that don't need to be in a pressurized environment. The trunk features fins on it for aerodynamic stability during an abort scenario, otherwise the spacecraft would become unstable and may fail to bring to astronauts to safety.
A lot of excitement is building up for their first Demo Mission coming up in a month or so, but we can expect to see SpaceX bring Astronauts to the ISS by the end of the year as long as there aren't any major setbacks.