CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — SpaceX achieved a huge milestone in safely launching astronauts from America’s Space Coast this spring as they performed an uncrewed launch abort test of their spacecraft on Sunday.
This flight test of the Crew Dragon’s launch escape system now moves SpaceX and NASA closer to launching astronauts from American soil. While NASA is focused on returning first to the moon, SpaceX will taxi astronauts to and from the International Space Station.
“SpaceX’s in-flight demonstration of Crew Dragon’s launch escape capabilities is designed to provide valuable data toward NASA certifying the spacecraft to begin carrying astronauts to and from the Space Station,” SpaceX Spokesperson James Gleeson said on Saturday.
Historic Abort Test Flight
The commercial company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft launched a top a Falcon 9 rocket at 10:30:00 a.m. EST, from the Kennedy Space Center. The uncrewed vehicle then successfully separated during a planned in-flight abort test.
As the abort sequence occurred in milliseconds, the Falcon’s core stage’s nine Merlin engines shutdown. The Crew Dragon is seperated followed by its SuperDraco thrusters then firing 85 seconds after launch. Eleven seconds later, the Falcon 9 then broke apart due to aerodynamic stress, and broke apart in a fireball off Cape Canaveral.
Once the spacecraft reached its high point of 131,000-feet, the bottom section known as the trunk separated nearly 2 1/2 minutes into the flight.
The Crew Dragon reached a velocity of Mach 2.2. Small thrusters then fired to maneuver the craft for a planned splashdown.
“For this test, Falcon 9’s ascent trajectory (did) mimic a Crew Dragon mission to the International Space Station to best match the physical environments the rocket and spacecraft will encounter during a normal ascent,” Gleeson added. “However, SpaceX configured Crew Dragon to intentionally trigger a launch escape after Max Q, the moment of peak mechanical stress on the rocket.”
What looks to be a successful test concluded with spacecraft splashdown nine minutes after launch.
“As far as we can tell thus far, it’s a picture perfect mission. It went as well as one can possibly expect,” Elon Musk, founder and chief engineer of SpaceX said on Sunday. “This is a reflection of the dedication and hard work of the SpaceX and NASA teams to achieve this goal. Obviously, I’m super fired up. This is great.”
SpaceX could be ready to launch America’s first astronauts from Cape Canaveral this spring. NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken could lift-off a top a Falcon 9 as early as April to spend two weeks in orbit.
Known as Crew Dragon Demo 2 mission, the two veteran astronauts will dock to the space station for an eight day visit. The crew will ferry up science and supplies to the orbiting laboratory, and later return used experiments to ground for analysis.
Sunday’s Falcon 9 launch occurred from the space center’s historic launch pad 39-A. The seaside pad is located near the site of NASA’s pad 39-B where astronauts will launch to the moon and Mars.
(Charles A. Atkeison reports on aerospace and technology. Follow his updates via social media @Military_Flight.)