[SatNews] Just after 9am ET today, SpaceX completed the first key flight test of its Crew Dragon spacecraft, a vehicle designed to carry astronauts to and from space. The successful Pad Abort Test was the first flight test of SpaceX’s revolutionary launch abort system, and the data captured here will be critical in preparing Crew Dragon for its first human missions in 2017.
Lasting less than two minutes, the test simulated how Dragon would carry astronauts to safety if an emergency occurred on the launch pad. Crew Dragon’s abort system is powered by eight SuperDraco engines, each of which produces about 15,000 pounds of thrust.
The engines are integrated directly into the sides of the vehicle rather than carried on top of the vehicle as with previous launch abort systems. This configuration provides astronauts escape capability from the launch pad all the way to orbit and allows the spacecraft to use the same thrusters to land propulsively on land at the end of a mission.
The eight SuperDracos ignited simultaneously and reached maximum thrust, propelling the spacecraft off the pad. After half a second of vertical flight, Crew Dragon pitched toward the ocean and continued its controlled burn.
The SuperDraco engines throttled to control the trajectory based on real-time measurements from the vehicle’s sensors. Dragon traveled from 0-100 mph in 1.2 seconds, reaching a max velocity of 345 mph.
The abort burn was terminated once all propellant was consumed, and Dragon coasted to its highest point. The trunk was jettisoned and the spacecraft began a slow rotation with its heat shield pointed toward the ground again.
Small parachutes, called drogues, were deployed first following trunk separation. Once the drogue parachutes stabilized the vehicle, three main parachutes deployed and further slowed the spacecraft before splashdown.
Less than two minutes after ignition, Dragon splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean downrange of the launch pad.
During today's test, Crew Dragon carried a test dummy equipped with sensors in order to gather all the data necessary to help ensure a safe environment for future crew. Had humans been on board today, they would have been in great shape.
This test will provide valuable data for future flight testing of the Crew Dragon spacecraft, including a high-altitude abort test and an uncrewed mission to the Space Station.