SpaceX and NASA are preparing for a key test of SpaceX’s manned Dragon spacecraft commercial manned spacecraft on Saturday, which should be the last major milestone SpaceX must pass on a demonstration mission,media TechCrunch reported. Then the astronauts boarded the spacecraft and headed for the International Space Station.
A launch window will open saturday at 8 a.m. EST, during which SpaceX is expected to conduct so-called “flight abort” tests for its manned Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 carrier rockets to demonstrate how its safety systems will protect real astronauts in the event of an accident.
The mission plan is to launch a manned Dragon capsule using the Falcon 9 rocket – in this case, the company uses a refurbished booster that has been used in three previous missions. However, this will be the falcon 9 rocket’s last flight. The launch was intentionally terminated early, i.e. after the rocket reached the “maximum Q” point, that is, at the moment when the maximum atmospheric pressure was in the course of the flight, i.e. about 84 seconds after liftoff.
The rocket will be about 19 kilometers (62,000 feet) above the Earth’s surface and about 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) from the launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. SpaceX has assembled a launch escape system for the manned Dragon spacecraft to trigger automatically at this time, which will separate the manned Dragon spacecraft from the Falcon 9 and push it away from the rocket very quickly to keep it safe to protect any future passengers. About five minutes after launch, the manned Dragon spacecraft will deploy a parachute system, which will then be splashed in the Atlantic Ocean, 3 to 3.5 kilometers (about 2 miles) from the shore.
Crews will then recover the manned Dragon spacecraft from the sea and transport it back to Cape Canaveral, where SpaceX will study the craft, including human-shaped dummies and sensors that serve as passengers, to monitor what happens in the cabin during the test. They will use it to ideally indicate whether the abort process will work as planned and whether it will be able to protect astronauts on the spacecraft in the event of an emergency that would result in an early termination of the mission.
In addition to the flight abort system, SpaceX and NASA are using the mission to prepare for manned flights in a variety of other ways. As NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine pointed out on Twitter, astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, who are expected to make their first mission later this year, conducted a test run on their actual flight.
As mentioned earlier, the test will not involve any attempt to recover the rocket, SpaceX Crew Mission Management Director Benji Reed said at a news conference Friday, adding that they did expect some kind of “ignition” event in the second stage of the Falcon 9. SpaceX’s crew will be on standby to recover as much work as possible from the remains of the rocket, which is useful for research and will be on standby to minimize the potential impact of the test on the environment.
The test was originally scheduled to take place about six months ago, but SpaceX’s manned Dragon capsule was destroyed in an accident while conducting an engine ignition test. SpaceX and NASA, which investigated the explosion, are confident they understand the cause of the incident and have taken steps to ensure that similar problems do not occur again. The manned Dragon spacecraft, which is being used for Saturday’s test, was originally intended for actual flight, and the company is currently developing another capsule to do so.
SpaceX’s test launch window will open at 8 a.m. EST on Saturday, but the time frame is four hours. Reed says it could actually be extended for much longer tomorrow if needed. It’s critical that not only the launch conditions but also the recovery conditions be optimal for this test, so both will play a role in the exact time of their launch, explains Kathy Leuders, NASA’s commercial manned program manager.