U.S. SPACE EXPLORATION TECHNOLOGY COMPANY SPACEX LAUNCHED ITS CREW DRAGON EMERGENCY ESCAPE ENGINE DURING GROUND TESTING AT CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA, ON WEDNESDAY, PAVING THE WAY FOR CRUCIAL TEST FLIGHTS IN THE COMING MONTHS, FOREIGN MEDIA REPORTED. If the test flight goes well, SpaceX will carry humans on a manned Dragon spacecraft for the first time next year.
The emergency escape engine is a key component of a manned Dragon spacecraft, and the system will be activated in the event of an accident during launch. The spacecraft will carry SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket into space, but if for some reason the rocket fails in mid-air, the emergency escape engine embedded in the spacecraft’s hull will start and take the capsule to safety. The capsule will then land with a carrying parachute.
These emergency escape engines, known as SuperDracos, have recently been in the spotlight. In April, a manned Dragon spacecraft exploded in a test capsule after launching the engine several times during routine tests. SpaceX immediately set up a dedicated team to investigate the cause, and eventually found that the leaky valve caused the propellant in the engine to enter another system, triggering a chain reaction. SpaceX assured the public that it would redesign the system and replace the valves.
The latest tests mean SpaceX’s investigation into the accident has been completed and the company can proceed as planned. At the same time, the test means SpaceX is about to conduct its next major test, testing an emergency escape engine during flight. So far, SpaceX has only tested the system on the ground.
Now, SpaceX wants to see if SuperDracos can be equally stable on a real rocket. At some point in the future, SpaceX plans to launch a second-hand Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida, with a manned Dragon capsule at the top. After launch, the spacecraft’s emergency escape system will start and try to drive the capsule to escape the rocket.
Once the tests are complete, SpaceX will complete most of the test flight requirements of the Commercial Astronaut program, and its last major test will be the first manned flight test, sending two NASA astronauts to the International Space Station for a short stop and then returning to Earth. If the test is successful, SpaceX will be finally eligible to begin regular lying to the International Space Station. SpaceX is likely to launch as early as the first half of 2020, but any unforeseen problems could lead to a delay.