SpaceX In-Flight Abort Test Confirmed for January 18

SpaceX In-Flight Abort Test Confirmed for January 18

NASA and SpaceX confirmed today that the In-Flight Abort test for SpaceX’s Crew Dragon will take place on Saturday, January 18.  The four-hour launch window opens at 8:00 am ET.  The test is a critical milestone towards Demo-2, the crewed flight test of SpaceX’s commercial crew system to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS).

The test will demonstrate Crew Dragon’s ability to separate from a Falcon 9 rocket after it leaves the launch pad and safety return a crew to an ocean splashdown.  SpaceX conducted a Pad Abort Test in 2015 to show that the crew capsule could survive an accident on the pad.  This test will prove that capability during ascent to orbit.

SpaceX will trigger an abort 1 minute 30 seconds after launch from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A.  The Falcon 9 rocket will be destroyed, but the spacecraft is expected to survive intact.  SpaceX teams will clean up the rocket debris and recover the spacecraft.

NASA and SpaceX released an animation of what will happen during the test.

SpaceX and Boeing are both developing commercial crew systems as public-private partnerships with NASA.  Both must conduct first an uncrewed and then a crewed flight test before the systems are certified for operational use.

Both also conducted Pad Abort Tests, but only SpaceX is performing this In-Flight Abort (IFA) test as well.

SpaceX’s 2015 Pad Abort Test was followed by its successful uncrewed flight test, Demo-1, in March 2019.  The company suffered a setback the next month, however, during preparations for this IFA test.  The Crew Dragon spacecraft exploded during a static fire test of the spacecraft’s Draco and SuperDraco thrusters, destroying the vehicle.  It was the same Crew Dragon capsule that had just flown to the ISS.

Crew Dragon has two sets of engines: 16 low-pressure Draco engines for orbital maneuvering, and eight high-pressure SuperDraco engines for the abort system.  After successfully testing the Draco engines, SpaceX was getting ready to fire the SuperDraco engines when the anomaly occurred.  It was not the engines themselves, but a helium check valve that failed after a “slug” of oxidizer entered it at a high speed.

SpaceX redesigned the system, replacing check valves with burst valves.  A static fire test of the redesign took place in November.  Two days ago, SpaceX completed a static fire test of the Falcon 9 rocket, the last step before committing to the January 18 test date.

For its part, Boeing conducted a successful Pad Abort Test of its CST-100 Starliner capsule in November 2019 and attempted the uncrewed flight test, Orbital Flight Test (OFT), on December 20.  It was a partial success.  The launch and landing went as planned, but the failure of Starliner’s Mission Elapsed Timer created a series of events that prevented it  from conducting rendezvous and docking operations with the ISS. NASA and Boeing have established an independent review team to determine the root cause of the failure.  NASA is still deciding whether the test must be repeated, but the agency and Boeing are painting a positive picture of the test even though it did not meet all its objectives.

NASA is anxious for the commercial crew systems to start flying.   NASA has not been able to launch anyone to ISS since the space shuttle program was terminated in 2011. NASA pays Russia for crew transportation services. Anticipating that Crew Dragon and/or Starliner would be operational by now, the last seat NASA has on a Russian Soyuz will launch in April.  NASA is negotiating with Russia now for a seat in the fall and perhaps another in the spring of 2021, but U.S. presence on the ISS will be sharply limited until these new systems are flying.

User Comments has the right (but not the obligation) to monitor the comments and to remove any materials it deems inappropriate.  We do not post comments that include links to other websites since we have no control over that content nor can we verify the security of such links.