SpaceX launches first test flight of Dragon crew capsule

March 15, 2018 – 12:43 pm

Dragon and trunkSpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft built to bring humans to orbit took flight for the first time Wednesday.

Dragon roared to life at about 9 a.m. EDT Wednesday for its short, uncrewed test in Florida. The seemingly successful test marks a big milestone on SpaceX’s road to ferrying NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station in the next two years.

“It was a great, great outcome, " Elon Musk, SpaceX's founder, said after the test. "Had there been people on board, they would have been in great shape.”

Even though Dragon was in the air for less than two minutes, the test should help SpaceX engineers gather key information about a potentially life-saving part of the spaceflight system.

SpaceX engineers wanted to see to see how the spaceflight system’s launch escape behaved during its first real test. Dragon’s abort system is designed to propel the capsule — and any astronauts on board — to safety in case the rocket experiences major a problem during flight.

Dragon in Flight

The Dragon capsule (left) separates from its trunk during a pad abort test on May 6, 2015.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon launched on its test with a dummy tucked inside the capsule and a bunch of sensors used to gather data during the flight.

The spacecraft flew 1, 500 meters, about 5, 000 feet, into the air from the pad after firing its eight 3D-printed thrusters that will be used to move a crewed Dragon safely away from any danger. The craft’s trunk then separated from the capsule, Dragon then came back to Earth under its parachutes, splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean.

"Dragon went from zero to 100 miles per hour in 1.2 seconds, " Musk said. "That's pretty zippy."

Dragon takes off from the launch pad.

Earlier launch escape systems made use of a tower that would spark to life and pull a spacecraft to safety. Those kinds of systems were only useful until the spacecraft hit a specific altitude, according to SpaceX, leaving the crew vulnerable to a rocket failure with now recourse for at least some part of its trip to orbit.

“SpaceX’s launch abort system, however, is integrated directly into the spacecraft, ” SpaceX added. “This means Crew Dragon will have launch escape capability from the launch pad all the way to orbit.”

The test was mounted as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program — created to get private spaceships flying NASA astronauts to the International Space Station by 2017. At the moment, SpaceX and Boeing have both been awarded multi-billion dollar contracts to develop their spacecraft to fly astronauts to the ISS.

Dragon stands on the pad before launch.

At the moment, NASA relies on a contract with Russia to transport astronauts to the space station. NASA astronauts have hitched rides on Russia's Soyuz spacecraft since the end of the space shuttle program, but the Commercial Crew Program is designed to end NASA's reliance on Russian vehicles for transportation.


Source: mashable.com

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