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SpaceX Successfully Tests In-flight Abort Capabilities

Photo: Kevin Quick

SpaceX successfully tested its Crew Dragon capsule's abort system this weekend. After being pushed back from an early Saturday morning launch, the Falcon 9 took off at 10:30am Sunday morning. Hundreds of cameras were pointed to the sky when the spacecraft separated. Shortly after separation, the rest of the rocket was destroyed due to the increased aerodynamic loads against the body of the first stage. The second stage stayed intact and exploded on impact with the Atlantic Ocean.

Photo: Kevin Quick

The reason for this test was to prove to NASA that Crew Dragon could successfully fire up its 8 Draco engines and jettison itself and its lower trunk away from a doomed Falcon 9. NASA requires the spaceship to have a full envelope in which it can abort. This means that the capsule must be able to escape the ascending rocket at any time during the mission. We saw Crew Dragon perform its pad abort in 2015. With this weekend’s test, SpaceX is ready to start delivering American astronauts to the International Space Station as soon as the second quarter of this year.

At one minute and 25 seconds after launch, Falcon 9 throttled down its nine Merlin engines as it passed through Max Q, or maximum aerodynamic pressure; The vehicle was moving roughly 1,800km/h. Less than one second later, the Crew Dragon and its trunk were jettisoned from the first and second stage. Immediately after the capsules departure, the first stage exploded as it began to tumble through the atmosphere.

The second stage hit the ocean with such force that it exploded on impact and created a smoke cloud visible on land. Meanwhile the capsule jettisoned its trunk after using it for aerodynamic stability. Moments later it deployed its drogue parachutes followed by its four main parachutes. All four main parachutes deployed slowly to reduce the amount of force exerted on the craft. NASA administrator Jim Bridenstien later said in a press conference that the capsule never exceeded three g’s.

The dragon capsule had a soft splashdown in the water about nine minutes after launch concluding a successful mission.

Booster 1046 was the first of the block five variant and was also the first SpaceX rocket to launch from all three launch facilities. It was launched without landing legs or grid fins as they were confident it would exploded under the enormous pressure of the test.

The test was captured form a multitude of angles, giving SpaceX fans an amazing view.

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