SpaceX successfully completed its first flight abort test of the manned Dragon spacecraft on Sunday (January 19), according to tech website TechCrunch. The purpose of the test was to simulate an accident during the flight of a rocket in which the spacecraft’s emergency start-up engine detached from the rocket. After leaving the rocket, the spacecraft eventually splashed over the Atlantic Ocean with its parachute. But at a news conference after the test, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said the future return of a manned Dragon spacecraft could be a completely different story.
Musk said SpaceX may eventually consider using a ship at sea to “catch” a manned Dragon spacecraft when it lands, rather than splashing it onto the water and recycling it. SpaceX is testing a similar system for recycling the rectifiers (large shields) used to wrap cargo during the launch of the existing Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets.
“It’s going to require continuous communication with NASA, but I think it’s going to be pretty cool to use the vessel squeathing we use to capture the rectifier,” Musk said. “
“Once this is recognized by NASA, we can try to capture a manned Dragon spacecraft when it lands, which would reduce some of the limitations of a water landing,” he said. “
If this recovery is achieved, it will give SpaceX an advantage in terms of cost and reusability of the spacecraft. Ultimately, SpaceX hopes to be able to provide manned flights to NASA and other commercial customers. Still, Musk stressed that the time it will take to achieve this goal is far beyond the actual life of the existing manned Dragon spacecraft, as it requires both NASA’s support and certification and SpaceX’s ability to reliably capture cargo launched into space. So far, SpaceX has managed to recover only half of its rocket rectifiers, but has failed several attempts.
Musk added: “Obviously we need to be able to recycle (rectifiers) very reliably, and then we’ll consider trying to recycle the manned Dragon spacecraft.” But I think it’s also a step forward compared to spilling the ship onthe. “