SpaceX Blows Up Falcon 9 Rocket Worth $57 Million To Prove A Point In Latest Crew Dragon Capsule Test

Monday, 20 January 2020 - 3:16PM
Monday, 20 January 2020 - 3:16PM
SpaceX Blows Up Falcon 9 Rocket Worth $57 Million To Prove A Point In Latest Crew Dragon Capsule Test
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Credit: SpaceX CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Yesterday the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule successfully completed an uncrewed launch and in-flight abort test – paving the way for SpaceX to become NASA's go-to for shuttling astronauts to and from the International Space Station, according to Space.Com.

The test was intended both to match the conditions of a crewed launch and to understand the capacity of the "SuperDraco-powered abort system" to save crewmembers' lives in an emergency.

"Falcon 9's ascent trajectory will mimic a Crew Dragon mission to the International Space Station to best match the physical environments the rocket and spacecraft will encounter during a normal ascent," SpaceX explained in a statement. "This test, which does not have NASA astronauts onboard the spacecraft, is intended to demonstrate Crew Dragon's ability to reliably carry crew to safety in the unlikely event of an emergency on ascent."

The test came on an overcast Sunday in Florida that threatened to cancel the already once-delayed launch test entirely. Liftoff was originally scheduled for Saturday, January 18, but foul weather conditions forced Mission Control to ground Crew Dragon until the skies cleared for liftoff at 10:30 a.m. yesterday morning.

Less than 90 seconds into the launch, the Falcon 9 rocket exploded. It was an intentional in-flight demolition to test the Crew Dragon's in-flight abort system. SpaceX detonated the rocket at a point called "Max Q," which is the point during a launch at which the rocket is under the most extreme stress and, therefore, more likely to reveal any sort of glaring malfunctions.

Eight powerful thrusters are embedded in the capsule's fuselage. In the unlikely event that a Falcon 9 should malfunction during a crewed launch, the on-board computer will ignite these thrusters so that the Crew Dragon pod can accelerate away from the damaged rocket and land safely by itself in an emergency.

Yesterday's test – just ten minutes from liftoff to splashdown – realized the success of that vision. The Crew Dragon landed in the Atlantic Ocean just 20 miles offshore from Cape Canaveral, Florida. SpaceX sent a fleet of emergency vehicles outfitted for recovery and will be in close talks with NASA to both analyze the results and determine the next steps.

Hopefully, that will be the first crewed launch. If all goes according to plan, NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will be hitching a ride to the ISS soon. Then, depending on the strength of that mission, Dragon will be permanently cleared for takeoff.

Watch the footage here:

(Cover Image: SpaceX CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)