Image Source: Ken Kremer/Twitter @ken_kremer
This year, NASA's Commercial Crew Program aims to bring back missions of NASA astronauts launching on rockets from American soil to the International Space Station (ISS). They have been working in coordination with SpaceX to make this a reality.
SpaceX technicians are currently preparing a Falcon 9 rocket to conduct pre-flight preparations ahead of Crew Dragon's crucial In-Flight Abort (IFA) test. These preparations include a static-fire test, that could take place today or sometime over the weekend.
"#SpaceX Rolls out and Raises Falcon 9 for Test Fire of Crew Dragon In-Flight Abort Test, KSC Launch Reset to Jan18: Photos"-@SpaceX #Falcon9 #StaticTestFire #CrewDragon #IFA #InFlightAbort #pad39A #KSC @NASA @NASAKennedy. Read my story/photos: Ken Kremerhttps://t.co/vegz4yqCmn pic.twitter.com/Sh1mrUILRs— Ken Kremer (@ken_kremer) January 10, 2020
A static-fire test consists of a very short ignition of Falcon 9's nine Merlin engines while the rocket is grounded on the launch pad. All the nine engines are fired for a few seconds as SpaceX engineering teams overlook the vehicle and data, then the engines are turned off quickly as the static fire test is complete. This test is a routine flight preparation, done ahead of every rocket launch. Engineers check the craft and data again upon completion to make sure the craft is ready to fly on a mission.
You can't tell from this angle but the Falcon 9 for IFA is still vertical. I see no signs of an expected static fire at this time. It's been a while since flames have kissed 39A so maybe later today or possibly tomorrow. 🤷♀️ #IFA pic.twitter.com/NmXoqKXZnX— Julia (@julia_bergeron) January 10, 2020
After the static-fire test is completed Falcon 9 will be ready to conduct Crew Dragon's most vital In-Flight Abort demonstration mission scheduled for no earlier than January 18. Falcon 9 is standing vertically at Launch Complex-39A awaiting.
During the test, the Crew Dragon will launch atop this Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Merrit Island, Cape Canaveral, Florida. NASA Statement:
"NASA and SpaceX are targeting no earlier than Saturday, January 18. for an In-Flight Abort Test of the Crew Dragon spacecraft from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, pending U.S. Air Force Eastern Range approval."
Testing Crew Dragon's escape launch system is the most crucial part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program safety requirements. The launch escape system should be able to reliably fly astronauts and save them during a dangerous rocket failure. The escape system consists of using Dragon's 8 SuperDraco abort engines to escape from danger while in flight. SuperDraco engines have been tested over 700 times! But this In-flight abort test will be different. It will be an unmanned mission, in which Dragon will launch atop a Falcon 9 rocket, lifting-off from Pad 39A. SpaceX will simulate a launch emergency about 90 seconds after liftoff -that's the time when the craft experiences maximum aerodynamic pressure, it is the most crucial point, referred to as "Max Q." And is often considered to be the most stressing moment during launch, because the rocket is pushing through the speed of sound.
Ahead of our in-flight abort test for @Commercial_Crew—which will demonstrate Crew Dragon's ability to safely carry astronauts away from the rocket in the unlikely event of an emergency—our team has completed over 700 tests of the spacecraft's SuperDraco engines pic.twitter.com/nswMPCK3F9— SpaceX (@SpaceX) September 12, 2019
Dragon will then quickly attempt to escape from the moving rocket by firing its 8 abort engines to thrust away. SpaceX explained that these 8 thrusters can move Dragon half a mile in only 7.5 seconds, equivalent to a peak velocity of 436 miles per hour. It should be fast enough to escape a possible rocket malfunction during an emergency situation. Once it ejects itself a safe distance away from the Falcon 9 rocket, Dragon will deploy it's 4 integrated parachutes to conduct a controlled splashdown into the ocean.
The In-Flight Abort test is expected to use the same Crew Dragon spacecraft as the one used on Demo-1, the first demonstration mission (shown in video above). That craft previously carried 400 pounds of cargo to the station, alongside a dummy called "Ripley" fitted with sensors to test how humans may experience the voyage onboard. It returned 6 days later with around 330 pounds of cargo astronauts sent back to Earth.
The IFA escape demonstration expected to occur next week, is one of the final major tests for SpaceX before astronauts will fly aboard the spacecraft. If all goes as planned NASA will approve the spacecraft by giving it a 'human-rating' certification to fly astronauts to the space laboratory.