Magic Dragon is the UK’s first commercially built manned capsule demonstrator, with its own life support system and communications equipment and it was fabricated in 2005 for Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) before the company got involved in NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services programme
This blog entry at Rocketeer.co.uk brought it to my attention. But I now have more detail from the UK company that built Magic Dragon
The UK is not known for its orbital manned spaceflight which is why I got on the phone quick to Andy Elson who built the capsule for SpaceX and who has a history of fabricating capsules for high altitude balloon flightsElson told me today that the Magic Dragon demonstrator he built did not have a reentry shield, as that was conceived as something that would be attached to one end of the final design.
Designed for tourism Elson said SpaceX insisted on square windows for the tourists and that the capsule was designed to be launched by a SpaceX Falcon 5. SpaceX has since moved on to its more powerfull Falcon 9 rocket and its updated capsule design, Dragon
Elson got the contract in 2003 and designed the capsule from scratch. It uses lithium hydroxide scrubbers for carbon dioxide and would provide additional oxygen. The internal atmosphere is 1bar with 20% oxygen, 80% nitrogen and the pressure vessel has the capability to slightly alter its internal pressure and those oxygen and nitrogen ratios
“We’ve built capsules for high altitude. Monitoring is all the same, down or up,” says Elson
The photograph on Elson’s website shows Magic Dragon before it was shipped to SpaceX’s El Segundo facility in 2005
The UK company Starchaser drop tested its own Nova 2 rocket capsule in July 2003 and has since gone on to develop the prototype of its Thunderstar capsule. For me the key difference between the two is that Elson was paid to build the demonstrator capsule and therefore its a commercial product, rather than an internally funded engineering unit