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Update 5/6/15 9:36am: The test was a success, and everything went off as planned. Here’s the replay video:
Our original post continues below.
SpaceX is running a critical Pad Abort test on its Dragon V2 spacecraft Wednesday. It’s the first real test on the craft, and will help pave the way for its first manned missions in 2017. The test itself is pretty straightforward, and involves the craft’s launch abort system. In case of a failure, this test ensures that the procedure to remove the crew and spacecraft from the combustible rocket works as planned. “It is similar to an ejection seat for a fighter pilot, but instead of ejecting the pilot out of the spacecraft, the entire spacecraft is ‘ejected’ away from the launch vehicle, ” the company said in a blog post.
What makes SpaceX‘s Launch Abort system different is that it’s integrated directly into the walls of the spacecraft, instead of consisting of a separate rocket tower on top. Rather than becoming useless just a few minutes into ascent, as the rocket tower would, SpaceX’s new system protects the crew and spacecraft all the way into full orbit. Thanks to the use of the craft’s eight SuperDraco rocket engines, the system is powerful enough for 120, 000 pounds of axial thrust in under one second, and can launch the Dragon craft over 300 feet in two seconds.
The graphic below shows exactly what’s going to happen tomorrow (and you can click the above blog post link to get a rundown of what each step is; there’s no need for me to go through them all here). The test will be judged on four criteria, according to the company: Sequencing, in that every command executes in the order it’s supposed to; Closed Lopo Control, where all eight engines will respond to incoming data; Trajectory Data, for both maximum altitude and distance downrange; and External and Internal Environments, for monitoring the conditions of the craft and crew in real time. A test dummy will sit aboard the craft and collect gravitational load force data as the test is conducted.
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