SpaceX will launch a Falcon 9 rocket from Florida this Saturday,media reported. In particular, the rocket is likely to explode in the air minutes after launch. The rocket’s mid-air disintegrating is part of a planned test flight designed to test SpaceX’s ability to respond to a rocket’s catastrophic accident. If the test goes well, SpaceX is one step closer to launching its first manned Falcon 9 rocket.
The test, called Flight Suspension, is one of The Last Major Milestones in SpaceX’s commercial manned program. NASA’s project aims to develop a new Type of U.S.-made spacecraft to re-launch NASA astronauts into space. For the past six years, SpaceX has been developing a spacecraft called the Manned Dragon spacecraft for the project, launched by the Falcon 9, which could send NASA astronauts to the International Space Station or back to Earth. As part of the development process, SpaceX has to conduct multiple tests to demonstrate that its spacecraft is not only safe but also capable of completing missions.
Saturday’s test was intended to demonstrate SpaceX’s backup program in a rare and unexpected event during an unexpected trip to the International Space Station. SpaceX, for example, will respond when the Falcon 9 rocket suddenly begins to disintegrate during liftoff. NASA wants to know if the astronauts in the manned Dragon spacecraft will be able to safely return to Earth if the rocket fails.
To save passengers in an emergency, SpaceX has designed an escape system for the manned Dragon spacecraft. The hull of the spacecraft is embedded in eight thrusters, called the SuperDraco engine. If there is a problem during the flight, the thruster will automatically ignite. The eight engines will then take the manned Dragon spacecraft away from the dangerous rocket. At a safe distance, the manned Dragon will open its own four parachutes and slowly descend into the Atlantic Ocean, awaiting rescue.
SpaceX has tested emergency thrusters before, but this will be the first time the company has tested the entire escape process during a flight. About a minute and a half after the Falcon 9 launch, the superDraco engine of the manned Dragon spacecraft ignites, and the spacecraft then disengages from the rocket. Meanwhile, the Falcon 9’s main engine will stall and return to the ground. The Falcon 9 disintegrated as the manned Dragon spacecraft tried to land safely in the Atlantic Ocean. The timing of the break-up depends on Saturday’s wind and other factors such as the rocket’s location. SpaceX has arranged for a team to recover the remains of the rocket after the test. The de-strapped Falcon 9 rocket has carried out three previous launches, and this test will be its fourth and final mission.
Even if there were no people inside the ship during the test, SpaceX would see it as a real emergency, sending search-and-rescue ships to rescue the craft. SpaceX has its own ships with helicopter landing platforms to retrieve manned Dragon spacecraft that land at sea — whether it’s a normal return from the International Space Station or an emergency. SpaceX will also be assisted in SpaceX’s recycling efforts.
NASA and SpaceX will be closely monitoring the test because of problems with the emergency abort system on the manned Dragon spacecraft in the past. Last April, a manned Dragon spacecraft exploded while testing the SpuerDraco engine. It took the company months to investigate the failure and eventually made adjustments to the system design. In November, the ignition test went smoothly. Still, crews are nervous about this weekend’s tests, as both NASA and SpaceX want to see the system function in simulated emergencies. If all goes well, the next milestone will be to arrange for crews to board a manned Dragon spacecraft. Two NASA astronauts, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, will be the first passengers to make a brief two-week stay at the International Space Station. Next, NASA will agree to regular manned missions to and from the International Space Station using manned Dragon spacecraft.
The timing of the manned flight has not yet been determined, as much work remains to be done after the suspension of the test. Elon Musk, SpaceX’s chief executive, said the two astronauts aboard the manned Dragon spacecraft could arrive at Cape Canaveral in February, but could take months to complete the necessary processes and tests before takeoff. In any case, the determination of manned flight time will be an important moment for SpaceX and NASA.
SpaceX’s suspension test is scheduled for 8 a.m. Eastern time on Saturday.