SpaceX successfully performed an in-flight abort test of the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft late yesterday. The test is the final hurdle before the spacecraft is cleared to begin crewed missions to the International Space Station.
The test was launched at 15:30 UTC yesterday (Jan. 19) aboard a flight-proven Falcon 9 from the historic Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. Approximately 90 seconds after liftoff, the abort sequence was initiated and the Crew Dragon’s eight SuperDrago thrusters were fired pulling the spacecraft clear of the rocket.
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 abort sequence, the capsule accelerated to over 640 kilometers per hour. Once clear of the rocket, the spacecraft jettisoned its trunk section and deployed its four main parachutes. Approximately nine minutes after liftoff, the Crew Dragon spacecraft splashed down safely 32 kilometers offshore.
At a post-test press conference, both SpaceX and NASA leadership stated that the test appeared to have gone as planned. “Overall, as far as we can tell thus far, it is a picture-perfect mission,” said SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk. “It went as well as one could possibly expect.”
“Another amazing milestone is complete for our very-soon-to-be project, which is launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil,” said NASA chief Jim Bridenstine at the briefing. “By all accounts, this was a very successful test.”
Although the in-flight abort test is the final major milestone before crewed missions, additional testing of the spacecraft’s new parachutes is required before it is certified for flight. According to Kathy Lueders, manager of the commercial crew program at NASA, the in-flight abort test served as the second “system-level” test of the parachutes. An additional two tests are expected to be completed within the coming weeks.
The flight-proven Falcon 9 utilised for the in-flight abort test broke up and exploded moments after the Crew Dragon spacecraft was jettisoned. The destruction of the rocket following the test had been expected by NASA and SpaceX teams. In a pre-flight press conference on January 17, SpaceX director of crew mission management, Benji Reed revealed, “at some point, we expect the Falcon will start to break up.”