Image Source: NASASpaceflight via YouTube
Early Sunday morning (January 19), SpaceX conducted the most vital In-Flight Abort test on their Crew Dragon spacecraft as part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program to launch astronauts from American soil. The unmanned test successfully demonstrated how the Crew Dragon spacecraft launch escape system could rescue astronauts in the event of a launch emergency after lift-off.
Crew Dragon separating from Falcon 9 during today’s test, which verified the spacecraft’s ability to carry astronauts to safety in the unlikely event of an emergency on ascent pic.twitter.com/rxUDPFD0v5— SpaceX (@SpaceX) January 19, 2020
During the test, a Falcon 9 rocket took off from Launch Pad 39A at Florida's Kennedy Space Center. SpaceX engineers simulated a dangerous scenario to test the craft's launch escape capabilities. At about 1 minute 30 seconds after lift-off, Dragon ignited its 8 SuperDraco engines as the Falcon 9 rocket shutdown its 9 Merlin 1D engines. This initiated Dragon's escape countdown and caused the rocket to explode mid-air (intentionally). Dragon burned its engines until shutdown then used its thrusters to re-orient itself to come back into Earth's atmosphere to perform a parachute assisted landing into the Atlantic Ocean off Florida's coastline. Read more: Crew Dragon's successful In-Flight Abort test gets SpaceX closer towards launching NASA Astronauts to the Space Station for the first time!
Splashdown of Crew Dragon in the Atlantic Ocean! pic.twitter.com/V1C2Xfd9Mk— SpaceX (@SpaceX) January 19, 2020
A SpaceX recovery team sailed aboard Go Searcher through the Atlantic Ocean with the objective to recover the Crew Dragon spacecraft to take it back to Port Canaveral. The Go Searcher ship has previously assisted teams to recover Dragon after it comes back to Earth during cargo missions from the International Space Station (ISS). SpaceX will be launching NASA astronauts to the station on-board the Dragon spacecraft this year, Go Searcher has been especially upgraded for the role of recovering Dragon with passengers after splashdown into the ocean. The ship features a medical treatment room and a helicopter landing pad, to aid astronauts upon returning from space. Go Searcher's onboard medical facility can deliver onsite treatment. A helicopter carrying doctors and paramedics could be dispatched to land on the ships pad to quickly take astronauts to a nearby hospital.
Watch tonight's recovery journey video:
Tonight, SpaceX teams worked in coordination with United States Air Force 45th Operations Group's Detachment-3, out of Patrick Air Force base, to recover Crew Dragon. They used Go Searcher's rear crane to haul Crew Dragon out of the water and onto the main deck, to bring it back to land for inspection.
Elon Musk, the founder and Chief Engineer of SpaceX, said after the successful test:
"It all looks perfect as least as far as we’ve seen thus far. But we need to physically recover the spacecraft and and confirm that there’s not something that’s not an issue that that wouldn’t show up on telemetry."
Looks to be in very good condition. pic.twitter.com/0qfmN9bZPP— Chris B - NSF (@NASASpaceflight) January 19, 2020
Now, recovery teams are in the process of taking the craft back to SpaceX facilities in Cape Canaveral, Florida where engineers will see if the craft experienced any kind of damage. Reporters who shared footage of the recovery operation said Dragon appears to be in good condition after today's In-Flight Abort mission that pushed the craft to its limits. In the coming days, NASA and SpaceX will evaluate the data to ensure Dragon is ready to carry out its first manned mission to the International Space Station.