Source: NASA and SpaceX
NASA's Commercial Crew Program has been working in coordination with several American aerospace industry companies to facilitate the development of U.S. human spaceflight systems. The goal is to safely launch astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) from American soil.
NASA selected SpaceX, their Crew Dragon spacecraft has been in development under a $2.6 billion contract to take astronauts to and from the space station. Both, see this as their highest priority because NASA has been highly dependent on Russian spacecraft to launch astronauts to the ISS since 2011.
The Crew Dragon spacecraft has been undergoing a testing phase, NASA announced this week, that the vital In-Flight Abort (IFA) test demonstration for the craft has been rescheduled for Saturday, January 18, 2020. Adding that they are still pending flight approval from the United States Air Force. This test was previously scheduled for the 11th of January, though waiting an additional week for approval does give engineers extra time to conduct more pre-test preparations, ahead of the vital demonstration mission.
"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."
.@SpaceX is targeting no earlier than Saturday, Jan. 18, for an In-Flight Abort Test of the #CrewDragon spacecraft. This is one of the final major tests before @Commercial_Crew astronauts will fly to the @Space_Station aboard the spacecraft: https://t.co/KZbLeLtlPH pic.twitter.com/EC8dNKnPoU— NASA (@NASA) January 7, 2020
The In-Flight Abort test will be an unmanned mission, in which Crew Dragon will launch atop a Falcon 9 rocket, lifting-off from the Kennedy Space Center's Pad 39A in Florida. SpaceX will simulate a launch emergency about 90 seconds after liftoff, Dragon will attempt to escape from the moving rocket by firing its 8 SuperDraco abort engines to thrust away while 'In-Flight.' 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 Atlantic Ocean. SpaceX must demonstrate to NASA that the spacecraft has the capability to safely separate from the Falcon 9 rocket in the event of an emergency in motion and land intact.
The demonstration of Crew Dragon's In-Flight launch escape system is one of the final major tests for the company before astronauts will fly aboard the spacecraft. The founder of SpaceX, Elon Musk, shared a new simulation of what will happen during their first manned mission to the space station (shown below).
SpaceX already proved their spacecraft can autonomously dock to the space station during their first demonstration mission, Demo-1, that occurred in March last year. Crew Dragon became the first American spacecraft in history to autonomously dock with the space station. It was a huge achievement for SpaceX because it proved their technology can be reliable.
If the IFA test goes well next week, NASA astronauts will fly to the International Space Station for the first time on their second demonstration mission, Demo-2. The dawn of a new space era could initiate soon, where American rockets launch astronauts from American soil.
We could see the simulation become a reality sometime this year! Good luck to SpaceX and NASA!