November 13, 2019 • Evelyn J. Arevalo
SpaceX's is developing Crew Dragon under a NASA contract to launch astronauts from American soil.
Crew Dragon is a capsule that attaches to the top of their Falcon 9 rocket, developed to carry astronauts and cargo safely into space. This spacecraft is capable of carrying up to 7 passengers.
Currently, Dragon only carries cargo to space. It is the only spacecraft currently flying that is capable of taking and returning large amounts of cargo to Earth.
SpaceX has been conducting many different tests to ensure that the new Crew Dragon version of the craft can pass a series of flight and safety tests before launching any humans on board. They have developed a launch escape system which is designed to use SuperDraco engines to "abort" the Crew Dragon spacecraft quickly from a Falcon 9 rocket during an emergency.
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
Today, teams at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Landing Zone 1, successfully test fired a Crew Dragon capsule's abort engines. An important milestone for the company ahead of the actual in-flight abort mission.
NASA said, the series of engine tests began with two burns that lasted one second each, for two of the 16 thrusters on Crew Dragon.
These 16 Draco thrusters are used for attitude control and moving while orbiting in space, but they are also useful to re-orient the craft on Earth during certain in-flight launch escapes.
As soon as those one second burns of the thrusters where completed, the SpaceX teams conducted a full-duration firing of all 8 SuperDraco engines. The firing lasted about nine seconds. These 8 SuperDraco engines are designed to "abort"- by flying Crew Dragon away from a Falcon 9 rocket during of an emergency after liftoff. So to escape during a real emergency the Crew Dragon capsule will fly away the rocket using it's own engines and return astronauts to the ground safely after deploying a set of four parachutes.
"Following these initial Draco thruster burns, the team completed a full-duration firing for approximately nine seconds of Crew Dragon’s eight SuperDraco engines. The SuperDraco engines are designed to accelerate Dragon away from the F9 launch vehicle in the event of an emergency after liftoff."
Full duration static fire test of Crew Dragon’s launch escape system complete – SpaceX and NASA teams are now reviewing test data and working toward an in-flight demonstration of Crew Dragon’s launch escape capabilities pic.twitter.com/CMHvMRBQcW— SpaceX (@SpaceX) November 13, 2019
Then after the SuperDraco engines shut down, 2 Draco thrusters fired and all 8 SuperDraco engine flaps closed. Which is the exact sequence required during an emergency operation to re-orient Crew Dragon while in-flight to prepare for parachute deployment. The entire test lasted approximately 70 seconds.
This series of static fire engine tests of the Crew Dragon spacecraft where successful.
"Today’s tests will help validate the launch escape system ahead of Crew Dragon’s in-flight abort demonstration planned as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. SpaceX and NASA will now review the data from today’s test, perform detailed hardware inspections, and establish a target launch date for the In-Flight Abort Test."
Image: May 2019 Crew Dragon on Falcon 9.
The next test, is an In-Flight Abort Test.
During this test, they will simulate an emergency situation where Crew Dragon needs to separate from a Falcon 9 rocket. So they will again fire the SuperDraco engines in a similar sequence, but this time in mid-air, while flying on board a Falcon 9 rocket without a crew. In order to see if the craft is capable of handling the most challenging and dangerous circumstances by escaping, flying safely, and landing with it's integrated parachutes.
Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, has said before that they hope to conduct an in-flight abort test next month in December. If the in-flight abort test is also successful, the craft would be ready to launch astronauts from American soil to the International Space Station.