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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

SpaceX Targets May 5th for Dragon Pad-Abort Test

As reported by Florida Today: SpaceX as soon as May 5 will shoot a Dragon capsule from a Cape Canaveral in a test of a key safety system needed for astronaut launches in the next two or three years.

The so-called "pad abort" test will launch a prototype crew spacecraft from a stand at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Launch Complex 40, simulating a launch pad emergency.

The Dragon will fire SuperDraco thrusters designed to enable the capsule and its crew to escape from a rocket failing on the pad or during flight.

"The ability to abort from a launch or pad emergency and safely carry crew members out of harm's way is a critical element for NASA's next generation of crew spacecraft," NASA said in a statement.

The brief test plans to loft the unmanned capsule upward until it deploys parachutes and splashes down in the Atlantic Ocean.

NASA Television will provide live coverage of the test. NASA TV also will air a media briefing previewing the test with SpaceX and NASA representatives. 

The ability to abort from a launch or pad emergency and safely carry crew members out of harm's way is a critical element for NASA's next generation of crew spacecraft. SpaceX will perform the test under its Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) agreement with NASA, but can use the data gathered during the development flight as it continues on the path to certification. Under a separate Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contract, NASA's Commercial Crew Program will certify SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, Falcon 9 rocket, ground and mission operations systems to fly crews to and from the International Space Station.

The Dragon capsule test unit will fire SuperDraco thrusters to blast off from a truss mimicking a Falcon 9 rocket on the launch pad, then deploy three main parachutes and splash down in the Atlantic Ocean approximately one mile offshore in the Atlantic Ocean.
The test rig includes a capsule with hundreds of sensors to measure pressures, loads, temperatures and other data during the flight test, which is expected to last about one minute.

SpaceX officials have said a crash test dummy is inside the capsule for the pad abort flight.

The human-rated Dragon capsule — a redesigned version of of SpaceX’s Dragon cargo craft — will ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station beginning in 2017. NASA awarded SpaceX a contract worth up to $2.6 billion in September to complete development of the Crew Dragon spaceship and fly up to six operational crew rotation missions to the space station.

NASA also tapped Boeing to finish testing of its CST-100 space capsule, giving the space agency redundant means to transport astronauts into low Earth orbit and end U.S. reliance on Russian Soyuz capsules for the job.

The Crew Dragon spacecraft’s eight side-mounted SuperDraco thrusters each generate about 16,000 pounds of thrust to carry crews away from danger during launch. SpaceX says the engines can also slow down the capsule during landing, eventually allowing the craft to accomplish propulsive pinpoint touchdowns like a helicopter.