On Sunday, January 19, 2020 SpaceX tested Crew Dragon’s
launch escape capabilities from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This was the first full end-to-end practical test of the system, intended to demonstrate Crew Dragon’s ability to reliably carry crew to safety in the unlikely event of an emergency on ascent.
The event was live streamed to the world. If anything had gone wrong, we’d have all known about it pretty fast, but instead, everything went perfectly. Watch that demonstration here. Turn the sound off your SCIFI.radio stream so you can give your full attention to the demonstration.
Falcon 9 took off beautifully. Then the Dragon Crew capsule separated, and the launch vehicle intentionally destroyed in a dramatic orange fireball. The mortars then fired to release four parachutes, which remained folded and shrouded to lessen mechanical shock on them. As they opened, the craft slowed in its descent to about 25 feet per second, or about 17 miles per hour – still fast enough to ring your chimes if you hit solid ground at that speed. For the text, though, there were no human astronauts aboard, only anthropomorphic test devices (crash dummies).
SpaceX designed Crew Dragon to be one of the safest human spaceflight
systems ever built. To date, the company has completed more than 700 tests of Crew Dragon’s SuperDraco engines, which will power the spacecraft away from Falcon 9 and carry crew to safety at any point during ascent or in the unlikely event of an emergency on the launch pad. In May 2015, SpaceX completed a pad abort demonstration of Crew Dragon.
In March 2019, SpaceX completed an end-to-end test flight of Crew Dragon
without NASA astronauts onboard, making Dragon the first American
spacecraft to autonomously dock with the International Space Station and
safely return to Earth.
For this test, Falcon 9’s ascent trajectory mimicked 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. However, SpaceX configured Crew Dragon to intentionally trigger a launch escape after Max Q, the moment of peak mechanical stress on the rocket.
Following Crew Dragon’s separation, Falcon 9 was meant to aerodynamically break up over the Atlantic (and it did).
“Falcon 9 and Dragon lifted off at 10:30 a.m. EST, or 15:30 UTC, with the abort sequence initiating approximately one and a half minutes into flight. Crew Dragon’s eight SuperDraco engines powered the spacecraft away from Falcon 9 at speeds of over 400 mph. Following separation, Dragon’s trunk was released and the spacecraft’s parachutes were deployed, first the two drogue parachutes followed by the four upgraded Mark III parachutes. Dragon safely splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean and teams successfully recovered the spacecraft onto SpaceX’s recovery vessel.”
Elon Musk, Chief Engineer at SpaceX, said “As far as we can tell thus far, it’s a picture perfect mission. It went as well as one can possibly expect.”
Susan Macdonald is the author of the children’s book “R is for Renaissance Faire”, as well as 26 short stories, mostly fantasy in “Alternative Truths”, “Swords and Sorceress #30”, Swords &Sorceries Vols. 1, 2, & 5, “Cat Tails” “Under Western Stars”, and “Knee-High Drummond and the Durango Kid”. Her articles have appeared on SCIFI.radio’s web site, in The Inquisitr, and in The Millington Star. She enjoys Renaissance Faires (see book above), science fiction conventions, Highland Games, and Native American pow-wows.