- Oct 26, 2017
NASA and SpaceX completed a launch escape demonstration of the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket Sunday. This was the final major flight test of the spacecraft before it begins carrying astronauts to the International Space Station under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.
The launch escape test began at 10:30 a.m. EST with liftoff from historic Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on a mission to show the spacecraft’s capability to safely separate from the rocket in the unlikely event of an inflight emergency.
“This critical flight test puts us on the cusp of returning the capability to launch astronauts in American spacecraft on American rockets from American soil,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “We are thrilled with the progress NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is making and look forward to the next milestone for Crew Dragon.”
As part of the test, SpaceX configured Crew Dragon to trigger a launch escape about 1.5 minutes after liftoff. All major functions were executed, including separation, engine firings, parachute deployment and landing. Crew Dragon splashed down at 10:38 a.m. just off the Florida coast in the Atlantic Ocean.
“As far as we can tell thus far, it’s a picture perfect mission. It went as well as one can possibly expect," said Elon Musk, Chief Engineer at SpaceX. “This is a reflection of the dedication and hard work of the SpaceX and NASA teams to achieve this goal. Obviously, I’m super fired up. This is great.”
Teams of personnel from SpaceX and the U.S. Air Force 45th Operations Group's Detachment-3 out of Patrick Air Force Base will recover the spacecraft for return to SpaceX facilities in Florida and begin the recovery effort of the Falcon 9, which broke apart as planned.
SpaceX deliberately destroyed a Falcon 9 booster Sunday in a spectacular high-altitude conflagration moments after an unpiloted Crew Dragon astronaut ferry ship shot away in a seemingly "picture-perfect" test of its emergency escape system, a major milestone setting the stage for a piloted test flight this spring.
While the Falcon 9 broke up in a spectacular fireball as expected, the Crew Dragon's eight powerful abort engines quickly pushed the spacecraft away with a sudden burst of acceleration that carried it on a ballistic trajectory to an altitude of about 25 miles. It then arced over, plunged back into the thick lower atmosphere and descended to a relatively gentle parachute-assisted splashdown 20 miles east of Cape Canaveral.
While it will take engineers weeks to sift through stored telemetry and carry out a detailed inspection of the spacecraft, SpaceX founder and chief designer Elon Musk told reporters the test appeared to go well and the company should be ready for a piloted test flight within a few months.