Dragon is the only spacecraft I know of currently in use that doesn't need a fairing for launch on top of a rocket. I know there are others in development or in testing like Dragon v2 and CST-100(not sure about this one).

It seems to me that building the spacecraft to withstand the aerodynamic flow would weight less than a spacecraft plus fairing to protect it. So the spacecraft that doesn't need a fairing can bring slightly more payload to orbit on the same rocket.

Why was Dragon the first spacecraft, to my knowledge that is, that doesn't need a fairing for for launch on top of a rocket? Didn't anyone before Elon think about a spacecraft that doesn't need a fairing? And why was Dragon designed like that in the first place, was it because it could deliver more payload?
I'm aware that Dragon has fairings to protect the solar panels, I'm asking about fairings to protect the spacecraft itself. The space shuttle and buran don't count since they were attached at the side and too big for a fairing.

Edit: This fairing is what I mean
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See also step 4 here
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Pictures of Soyuz TMA-16M taken from spacefilght101.

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    $\begingroup$ Blue Origin's New Shepard also doesn't use any fairing, and I believe CST-100 won't either (didn't confirm this). $\endgroup$ – TildalWave Aug 10 '15 at 16:12
  • $\begingroup$ Wikipedia says it has "... a nose-cone cap that jettisons after launch." Does that not count? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dragon_%28spacecraft%29 $\endgroup$ – Fred Larson Apr 16 '16 at 4:04

Dragon is not the first manned spacecraft to launch without a fairing Mercury-Atlas Launch
Mercury had a Launch Escape Tower bolted to the top. Gemini-Titan Launch
Gemini had ejection seats so no tower was needed Apollo Launch Starting with Apollo, a small fairing cover was included as part of the LES. This cover detached with the LES during flight to reduce weight.

With Soyuz all capsules have had a fairing during launch. R-7 Launch Family

Now the question is why do some capsules have fairings and some do not? One theory is that capsules designed for reentry do not need aerodynamic protection from a fairing. That would explain why Soyuz has a fairing, since only 1 part of the craft is designed for reentry. However, the Apollo Command Module was designed for reentry, but yet had a fairing. Another, more likely theory is that it is merely a result of LES design. The LES escape motors on Apollo were much more powerful than Mercury's because Apollo was a more massive capsule. Therefore there needs to be a protective fairing to protect the capsule from this rocket exhaust. Orion, being even more massive, requires a full capsule fairing to protect it from its LES.

Both Dragon and CST-100 have pusher LES systems, therefore the exhaust is directed downwards away from the capsule and there is no need for additional protections.


Apollo LES Breakdown
According to this image of the Apollo LES, the bottom fairing is a "Boost Protective Cover", presumably to protect the Apollo capsule from the Launch Escape Motor exhaust.

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    $\begingroup$ Pretty sure I've seen some explanations somewhere about LES and Apollo's need for a "Boost Protective Cover", so a little research should confirm your statements. See: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollo_(spacecraft) for part of it. $\endgroup$ – Anthony X Aug 11 '15 at 2:29
  • $\begingroup$ Soyuz even seems to have an upper and a lower launch shroud, according to this Wiki about the successful launch escape in 1983. It is a short funny read with cigarettes and vodka and much more. Soyuz escape system, still used today, seems complicated with four or more different separations required. $\endgroup$ – LocalFluff Aug 11 '15 at 11:09
  • $\begingroup$ Hopefully they don't need telephoned codewords like maybe: "-The escape system radio codeword is JALOUSIES" "-Ehm, do you spell J'HALLUCINÈ with a G as in genre or with a C as in Charlie?" $\endgroup$ – LocalFluff Aug 11 '15 at 11:22
  • $\begingroup$ Saturn V also had a fairing for the LEM, although the CM and the SM were outside of it - mostly, the SM's nozzle was within the fairing. $\endgroup$ – Jochen Lutz Feb 8 '18 at 15:33

The Dragon doesn't need a fairing because it needs to re-enter the Earth's atmosphere, and thus must be made rigorously to begin with. The same things that allow it to launch from Earth safely allow it to re-enter without burning up. There are a number of vehicles that don't need fairings, including every manned spacecraft I'm familiar with. It seems though that the key is re-entry, every vehicle I'm aware of that doesn't need a fairing can re-enter the Earth's atmosphere safely.

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    $\begingroup$ Why are they using fairings then if they don't need them? $\endgroup$ – Timo Aug 10 '15 at 13:03
  • $\begingroup$ Some spacecraft use fairings to simplify the aerodynamics at launch (X-37B), but need them to survive launch, as they are only intended for operations in space. No manned vehicle uses a fairing to my knowledge, that's the largest exception. $\endgroup$ – PearsonArtPhoto Aug 10 '15 at 13:05
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    $\begingroup$ I mean why use a fairing for a Soyuz when it can be launched without? Is is for aerodynamics too? See this picture i1.wp.com/www.universetoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/…, it's a soyuz protected by a cover(fairing?) $\endgroup$ – Timo Aug 10 '15 at 13:06
  • $\begingroup$ Hmmm, I think you are right. I'll have to look into this more... I'm sure that Mercury didn't use a fairing, nor did Gemini. Apollo used a fairing for the more sensitive parts, which I suspect Soyuz might do as well. But there has to be a way to get astronauts in/out from the pad, which means the fairing must not be complete. $\endgroup$ – PearsonArtPhoto Aug 10 '15 at 13:15
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    $\begingroup$ Is it possible that a tractor LAS blows thrust down, and needs a fairing to protect the crew vehicle from a possible abort scenario? $\endgroup$ – geoffc Aug 10 '15 at 13:27

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