December 6, 2019 • Evelyn J. Arevalo
SpaceX is developing Crew Dragon under a Commercial Crew Program contract with NASA, the objective is to launch astronauts from American soil. The Crew Dragon spacecraft attaches atop of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, capable of carrying up to 7 passengers and tons of cargo into space.
Source: SpaceX Livestream
This year in March, SpaceX successfully docked the new Crew Dragon with the International Space Station (ISS) during the first demonstration test, Demo-1. This test was unmanned, aboard was an astronaut mannequin with sensors. During Demo-1, Dragon became the first American spacecraft in history to autonomously dock with the ISS on it's very first demonstration flight. This was a huge success for the company because it demonstrated Crew Dragon could one day successfully transport astronauts and dock to the ISS safely.
In preparation for the company's first manned mission next year, the craft is currently undergoing another testing phase. This time it involves its launch abort system that was developed in case of an emergency situation, to escape and guard the brave astronauts' life.
This week, SpaceX completed the 7th successful test of Crew Dragon’s upgraded parachutes. These parachutes are their third iteration known as Mark 3, featuring upgraded technology and are made with a more durable material, Zylon, that have a new seam stitching process which provide maximum strength.
This parachute system is important because when the Dragon spacecraft brings astronauts back to Earth, from the International Space Station, the parachutes provide a safe descent and landing.
This week SpaceX completed the 7th successful system test of Crew Dragon’s upgraded Mark 3 parachutes, which will provide a safe landing back on Earth for astronauts returning from the @space_station pic.twitter.com/FdBXdvqmf4— SpaceX (@SpaceX) December 5, 2019
Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, stated that 10 successful tests in a row with the Mark 3 parachute system is the goal they aim to accomplish before moving on to using this new iteration of the parachutes with a Crew Dragon craft. SpaceX shared on Tuesday that it has now run 7 out of 10 tests --3 more parachute tests to preform until the next phase of testing begins.
The next phase of testing will be an In-Flight Abort (IFA) test, which consists of doing a demonstration of how the Crew Dragon spacecraft can launch escape system works during an emergency situation. During this test, SpaceX teams will simulate a launch emergency without a crew. A Falcon 9 rocket will be launched and in mid-air, while flying, the Dragon will attempt to escape using it's integrated SuperDraco engine thrusters to pull away from a rocket in motion. This upcoming IFA test is designed to see if the craft would be capable of handling the most challenging and dangerous of circumstances by escaping, flying safely away from danger, then landing with it's integrated parachutes. This IFA demonstration mission might take place this month of December. The Falcon 9 rocket that will conduct this test is already prepared at SpaceX facilities in Cape Canaveral Florida.
The @SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and #CrewDragon spacecraft that will be used for the In-Flight Abort test have arrived at SpaceX facilities in Cape Canaveral, Fla. for preparation ahead of the test! pic.twitter.com/aA76Gs81qe— NASA Commercial Crew (@Commercial_Crew) October 3, 2019
This test must be a success before proceeding to launch astronauts aboard the craft. The second demonstration flight of Crew Dragon to the ISS, Demo-2, is scheduled for next year.
"We are getting very close, and we're very confident that, in the first part of next year, we will be ready to launch American astronauts on American rockets."
NASA Administrator, Jim Bridenstine, stated. If all goes well, SpaceX could be ready to launch astronauts aboard Crew Dragon by the first quarter of 2020.
Good luck to SpaceX from the Tesmanian team!