SpaceX preps for test of Dragon capsule’s life-saving abort system

April 2, 2017 – 09:46 pm

SpaceX ground crews transfer the Dragon pad abort vehicle. Credit: SpaceXA commercial spaceship designed to ferry U.S. astronauts into orbit by 2017 is set for a major test Wednesday, when SpaceX plans to blast the capsule away from a launch mount at Cape Canaveral on a mile-high demo flight to simulate the craft’s ability to protect occupants in the event of a catastrophic rocket mishap on the pad.

SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft will not travel far, but data from Wednesday’s test should arm engineers with results to prove the capsule’s emergency safety system can save astronauts from an explosive launch failure.

Garrett Reisman during training before a 2010 flight aboard the shuttle Atlantis. Credit: NASA/Robert MarkowitzThe test is scheduled for 7 a.m. EDT (1100 GMT) Wednesday from Cape Canaveral’s Complex 40 launch pad, the same facility used by SpaceX for operational flights of the Falcon 9 booster.

It is the most visible test to date for NASA’s commercial crew program at Cape Canaveral, where SpaceX and Boeing plan to launch crews to the International Space Station.

A SuperDraco engine during a firing at SpaceX's Central Texas test facility. Credit: SpaceXNASA last year selected the aerospace contractors to develop the Crew Dragon and CST-100 commercial space capsules to end U.S. reliance on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to ferry astronauts to the space station. Both companies say they will be ready for the task in 2017.

Wednesday’s test flight will go by in 107 seconds, with less than six seconds under power from the Dragon capsule’s eight SuperDraco rocket thrusters.

SpaceX has installed instrumentation, mass simulators and a crash test dummy inside the Dragon pad abort vehicle. Credit: SpaceX“It doesn’t last long, ” said Garrett Reisman, a former astronaut and current director of crew operations at SpaceX. “The boost phase is only a few seconds, and it’s pulling almost 5 G’s when it’s coming off the pad, so it’s going to get out of here in a hurry. My advice to you if you go outside to watch it is don’t blink.”

The abort system is top-of-mind for astronauts like Reisman, who flew two times on the space shuttle, which had no way for crews to safely get away from a launch failure, a lesson bitterly learned with the Challenger accident in 1986.

“I think, in retrospect, that was kind of obvious, ” Reisman said. “As an astronaut, having that (escape) ability is huge — absolutely huge.”

The astronauts on Challenger did not wear spacesuits, and crews donned bright orange partial pressure suits on all future shuttle missions. NASA also installed a telescoping pole astronauts could extend from the shuttle’s hatch, but the system could only be used when the shuttle was in stable flight.


Source: spaceflightnow.com

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