WASHINGTON — NASA and SpaceX plan to postpone an in-flight abort test of the crewed version of SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft until after an orbital test flight, a decision they say is not linked to the June 28 Falcon 9 launch failure still in the early phases of its investigation.
In a July 1 statement, NASA announced SpaceX was delaying the test, where a Dragon spacecraft separates from its Falcon 9 launch vehicle during ascent, from later this year until after an orbital test flight of the crewed version of the Dragon vehicle. That test flight, which would not carry people onboard, is currently planned for late 2016 under SpaceX’s Commercial Crew Transportation Capability contract with NASA.
SpaceX’s original plans for the in-flight abort test called for using the same Dragon spacecraft that flew in a pad abort test in May from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. However, the Dragon design has changed since construction of that spacecraft started more than two years ago, so SpaceX will instead use the Dragon that flies the uncrewed test flight.
“Testing the actual flight design always results in higher fidelity data and ultimately reduces risk for later crew flights, ” William Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for human exploration and operations, said in the statement. “This change supports a philosophy of testing as you fly, which our experience has shown to be a good strategy for development and complements well the earlier system information gained from the pad abort test.”
The change in schedule for the test also includes a change in venue. SpaceX’s previous plans for the in-flight abort test called for launching the Falcon 9 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The test will now be carried out from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the same pad that SpaceX will use for crewed Dragon missions.
Because the in-flight abort test was a milestone in SpaceX’s earlier Commercial Crew Integrated Capability award, a funded Space Act Agreement with NASA issued in August 2012, the term of that agreement will be extended. That extension, however, would not involve any additional funding. The in-flight abort test milestone is valued at $30 million under that 2012 agreement, which originally scheduled the test for April 2014.
You might also like:
NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services: A New Era in Spaceflight - History of International Space Station (ISS) Cargo and Crew, SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, Bigelow
eBooks (Progressive Management)