Last month Elon Musk wowed reporters on the floor of SpaceX's Hawthorne, California-based factory, pulling back the curtain on the spaceship that his commercial spaceflight company hopes will carry NASA astronauts to the International Space Station as soon as 2016. The unveil of the Dragon V2, as the spacecraft is known, couldn't have come at a better time. Just two weeks prior, Russia's deputy prime minister vowed to bar NASA from hitching rides to the ISS aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft in retaliation for Western sanctions imposed on Russia in response to the the Ukraine crisis.
The fortuitous timing—along with the Dragon V2's sleek, futuristic design—could make the spacecraft an attractive option for NASA, which is also considering designs by Boeing and Sierra Nevada. But more important to SpaceX (CNBC's No. 1 Disruptor) is the advance toward a core company objective: reusability. Dragon V2—unveiled just a month after SpaceX demonstrated technologies key to developing a reusable first rocket stage—can be retrieved, refurbished and relaunched, a concept with the potential to completely upend the economics of a spaceflight industry where equipment costing hundreds of millions of dollars is most often discarded after a single use.