Tesla CEO Elon Musk never does anything in halves. Just after 9am on May 6, 2015, in Cape Canaveral, his company SpaceX tested its Crew Dragon spacecraft designed to carry astronauts to space by 2017. The Pad Abort Test successfully demonstrated how a “revolutionary launch abort system” separates the crew capsule from its base in an emergency, and gently lands the capsule and its crew with a system of parachutes.
Engines powering previous launch abort systems were carried on the top of the vehicle, according to SpaceX. Musk and his team have instead integrated eight SuperDraco engines, which each produce roughly 15,000 pounds of thrust, directly into the sides of the craft. This is said to allow astronauts to escape from the Crew Dragon at any time, from launch right up to orbit. Meanwhile, the spacecraft can also use the thrusters to land at the mission’s conclusion. Yesterday’s crew, a dummy, was not harmed in the test flight which produced a mountain of data that will inform future tests.
“Temperature sensors on the outside, acoustic sensors, microphones. This is basically a flying instrumentation deck,” WIRED quotes Hans Koenigsmann, vice president of mission assurance with SpaceX, who briefed the media last Friday.
The next test planned for later this summer will involve an in-flight abort with a different booster. Since the US space shuttle program was retired in 2011, the United States has not sent any crewed missions to the international space station though China and Russia continue to do so. In the meantime, SpaceX dragon capsules have delivered five shipments of supplies, including food for astronauts and scientific equipment, according to Wired. They seem to be laying the groundwork for the day when Americans can return to space with fewer dangers.
Images via SpaceX