SpaceX Completes Crew Dragon Pad Abort Test

November 20, 2012 – 12:22 pm

LOS ANGELES – is reviewing data from what appears to have been a nominal pad abort test for the Crew Dragon vehicle from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral on May 6.

The test, which culminated with splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean just offshore, marks a major milestone on the road to using the Crew Dragon for human missions to the International Space Station in 2017. The vehicle has been in development since mid-2012 under a $440 million Space Act Agreement with as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CciCap) program, with the expectation that it will fly starting in 2017.

The SpaceX abort system, unlike most other rocket tower-based escape systems, is integrated into the sides of the Crew Dragon vehicle, and before liftoff evidence of the May 5 hot fire test was visible with scorch marks in the paintwork on the sides of the capsule. By being integrated into the capsule itself rather than positioned on a disposable tower, the SpaceX system is designed to provide launch escape capability from the ground all the way to orbit.

Following burnout the craft coasted until a small air brake device was seen to deploy in the trunk, which helped it separate from the Crew Dragon at T+15 sec. SpaceX estimated the vehicle should have reached an apogee of around 1, 500 meters during this coast phase, but no data has so far been revealed on the test trajectory. The drogue parachutes deployed to stabilize the Dragon at around T+19, while the three main parachutes deployed at T+25 to slow the spacecraft before splashdown at 1 min., 39 sec. after launch.

Before the test SpaceX had estimated splashdown would occur around 2, 200 meters (1.4 mi.) downrange of SLC-40. But no confirmation of either the maximum apogee or the final distance achieved during the flight has so far been given. A cautionary comment from the SpaceX mission control room during the descent phase of “hang tight, everyone, ” and the failure of a mission monitor to announce the actual downrange distance, has sparked speculation the system may have slightly underperformed.

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