The Dragon spacecraft launched from SpaceX’s launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 9:00 a.m. Eastern time, at the beginning of a seven-hour launch window. The spacecraft’s eight SuperDraco thrusters fired for six seconds, accelerating the spacecraft on a brief flight that ended a little more than a minute and a half later with a splashdown just offshore.
The test is one of two of Dragon’s abort system, designed to accelerate the spacecraft away from its Falcon 9 launch vehicle in the event of an emergency. The SuperDraco thrusters, located in four sets of two near the base of the capsule, are designed to quickly push the vehicle away from its rocket. That is a different approach from the “tractor” launch abort system, featuring a tower above the capsule, used both on Apollo and by NASA’s Orion spacecraft.
SpaceX chief executive Elon Musk said shortly after the flight that it appeared to be a success. “I think this bodes quite well for the future of the program, ” he told reporters during a teleconference about two hours after the test. Dragon, he said, accelerated from zero to 160 kilometers per hour in 1.2 seconds, and reached a peak speed of 555 kilometers per hour in the test.
NASA also praised the test. “Congratulations to SpaceX on what appears to have been a successful test on the company’s road toward achieving NASA certification of the Crew Dragon spacecraft for missions to and from the International Space Station, ” Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s commercial crew program, said in a statement after the flight.
The Dragon carried more than 270 sensors to measure its performance during the flight. During a pre-flight press conference at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center May 1, Hans Koenigsmann, vice president of mission assurance at SpaceX, said the capsule, once recovered from the ocean, would be transferred to the company’s Texas test site for additional study, then refurbished for a later in-flight abort test.
Besides the sensors, the Dragon carried a dummy designed to measure the flight environment’s effects on a human. At the May 1 briefing, Koenigsmann called the dummy “Buster, ” but SpaceX later said that was incorrect. “Our dummy prefers to remain anonymous for the time being, ” the company said in a May 4 statement about the test.
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