Update: SpaceX and NASA launched the rocket around 9 a.m. Eastern and it was a resounding success with the capsule successfully detaching and parachuting into the ocean for recovery. Now the data collected will be used to figure out if it would be safe for astronauts to be inside and what can be done to improve the capsule and the abort procedure.
Great way to start our day here @NASAKennedy with a picture perfect @SpaceX test flight! #LaunchAmerica
— NASA Commercial Crew (@Commercial_Crew)
SpaceX is livestreaming a big step forward in its plans to build and send manned spacecraft into orbit Wednesday morning. The company, as part of its contract with NASA, will carry out a Pad Abort Test on its Crew Dragon spacecraft at Cape Canaveral.
The test is not about actually sending a manned flight into orbit but to simulate an emergency and how the spacecraft functions if a crew needed to escape during a rocket failure or other problem. The Crew Dragon and its trunk will be on top of eight SuperDraco engines, which will carry it up about 5, 000 feet before the capsule detaches and, ideally, lands in the Atlantic Ocean softly enough to save the crew. The rockets will provide about twice the power of the Redstone rocket that made Alan Shepard the first American in space. It will only take about 90 seconds from start to finish for the test, but it could provide a wealth of information before manned tests take place.
Image via SpaceX
“This is what SpaceX was basically founded for, human spaceflight, ” said Hans Koenigsmann, vice president of Mission Assurance with SpaceX in a statement. “The pad abort is going to show that we've developed a revolutionary system for the safety of the astronauts, and this test is going to show how it works. It's our first big test on the Crew Dragon.”
The window for the test will be from 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. ET, so it could be a while to wait. But the crew will be watching and collecting data at every moment to see what they can do to improve the capsule. Even a complete failure to get the capsule safely into the water would at least give the engineers a starting place for the next version.
"No matter what happens on test day, SpaceX is going to learn a lot, " said Jon Cowart, NASA's partner manager for SpaceX in a statement. "One test is worth a thousand good analyses."
SpaceX and Boeing both have contracts with NASA to develop manned spacecraft. The goal for SpaceX is to get manned craft into orbit in 2017. That may seem like a while, but there's plenty left to do and many tests left. This one though will help them figure out the most important part, how to keep the astronauts safe.
"There’s a lot of instrumentation on this flight – a lot, " Koenigsmann said. "Temperature sensors on the outside, acoustic sensors, microphones. This is basically a flying instrumentation deck. At the end of the day, that’s the point of tests, to get lots of data.
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