December 23, 2019 •Evelyn J. Arevalo
SpaceX's priority is to safely launch astronauts into space, they are actively developing the Crew Dragon spacecraft to launch astronauts for the very first time to the International Space Station (ISS). Crew Dragon is in development under a contract with NASA's Commercial Crew Program. SpaceX has been conducting tests to ensure that Crew Dragon can operate safety before launching any humans on board. They have successfully conducted Demo-1, their first flight demonstration mission in March this year. During Demo-1, Crew Dragon successfully docked to the ISS autonomously, proving their innovative technology is reliable.
Yesterday the team completed the 10th successful multi-chute test in a row of Crew Dragon’s upgraded Mark 3 parachute design – one step closer to safely launching and landing @NASA astronauts pic.twitter.com/nfFjnKygB4— SpaceX (@SpaceX) December 23, 2019
SpaceX engineering teams have been conducting a series of tests on the third version of Crew Dragon's parachute system, referred to as Mark 3 or Mk3. These parachutes are needed when bringing astronauts back to Earth, as the craft enters our atmosphere the four parachutes will be deployed to soft land the craft into the ocean safely. Earlier this year, Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX said that the Mark 3 parachute system would need at least 10 successful tests in a row before being confident about using it for crewed flights. Today, SpaceX announced they have successfully tested their upgraded parachutes 10 times in a row:
"Yesterday the team completed the 10th successful multi-chute test in a row of Crew Dragon’s upgraded Mark 3 parachute design – one step closer to safely launching and landing NASA astronauts."
Now the company is getting ready for the next phase of testing, an In-Flight Abort (IFA) test that will ultimately be the last test before conducting Demo-2, their second demonstration flight to the space station. The In-Flight Abort test is scheduled for January 11, 2020. This test will demonstrate how the Crew Dragon spacecraft's launch escape system works during an emergency situation. During the test, SpaceX teams will simulate a launch emergency without a crew. A Falcon 9 rocket will lift off, and seconds later the Dragon spacecraft will fire it's integrated SuperDraco abort engine thrusters to pull away from the rocket while iplight. This upcoming IFA test is designed to see if the craft would be capable of handling the most dangerous of circumstances by escaping safely away from danger, then landing with it's integrated parachutes. NASA officials said in a statement: "As part of the test, SpaceX will configure Crew Dragon to trigger a launch escape shortly after liftoff and demonstrate Crew Dragon's capability to safely separate from the Falcon 9 rocket in the unlikely event of an in-flight emergency. The demonstration also will provide valuable data toward NASA certifying SpaceX's crew transportation system for carrying astronauts to and from the International Space Station." The Falcon 9 rocket that will conduct this test is already prepared at SpaceX facilities in Cape Canaveral, Florida. This will be one of the final major tests for SpaceX before NASA astronauts will fly aboard the craft.
If in January the In-Flight Abort test results are optimal, SpaceX will conduct their FIRST crewed mission with NASA astronauts sometime next year.
Good luck to SpaceX!