Wednesday, May 6, 2015

SpaceX Completes Pad Abort Test

SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft during the Pad Abort Test. Credit: SpaceX/NASA

Just after 9:00 a.m. EDT 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. “SpaceX was founded with the goal of carrying people to space, and today’s pad abort test represented an important milestone in that effort,” said Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX president and chief operating officer. “Our partnership with NASA has been essential for developing Crew Dragon, a spacecraft that we believe will be the safest ever flown. Today’s successful test will provide critical data as we continue toward crewed flights 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 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 40 in Florida.

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.

"This is a critical step toward ensuring crew safety for government and commercial endeavors in low-Earth orbit," said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. "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.”

SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft deploys parachutes before splashdown. Credit: SpaceX
SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft deploys parachutes before splashdown. Credit: SpaceX

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.

The pad abort test is a payment milestone funded by the Commercial Crew Program under a partnership agreement established with the company in 2012. The agency awarded contracts last year to Boeing and SpaceX to build their respective systems for flight tests and operational missions to the space station. Known as Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts, the awards allow continued work on Boeing’s CST-100 and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon at a pace that is determined by their respective builders, but that also meets NASA's requirements and its goal of flying crews in 2017.

"Our partners have met many significant milestones and key development activities so far, and this pad abort test provides visual proof of one of the most critical safety requirements -- protecting a crew in the event of a major system failure," Lueders said.

NASA already is preparing the space station for commercial crew spacecraft and the larger station crews that will be enabled by SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and Boeing’s CST-100. NASA plans to use the new generation of privately developed and operated spacecraft to carry as many as four astronauts each mission, increasing the station crew to seven and doubling the amount of science that can be performed off the Earth, for the Earth.

Credit: spacex.comNASA

No comments:

Post a Comment