SpaceX Pad Abort Test Lifts Off Successfully-UPDATED WITH VIDEO

SpaceX Pad Abort Test Lifts Off Successfully-UPDATED WITH VIDEO

The pad abort test for SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft lifted off on time at 9:00 am ET this morning at Cape Canaveral, FL.  The test is related to readying the crew version of Dragon to take astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS).

The test lasted about 1.5 minutes as the Dragon capsule lifted off from its launch pad — minus a rocket — firing its eight integrated Super Draco engines to simulate the capsule’s ability to escape from an emergency situation at launch. 

Everything appeared to take place as planned, with Dragon reaching an altitude of about 5,000 feet, deploying its parachutes, and splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean about one mile off shore.  It will be recovered and returned to SpaceX’s McGregor, TX facility for analysis.  

SpaceX released a video of the countdown and test (launch is about 15:55 into the video).

The Super Draco engines provide an abort capability all the way to orbit, unlike “escape towers” used in the early days of U.S. human spaceflight and still used by Russia and China that are jettisoned at a certain altitude.   SpaceX eventually plans to use them to return Dragon to Earth propulsively to land on terra firma rather than splashing down in the ocean.


SpaceX Dragon spacecraft splashes down at end of pad abort test, May 6, 2015.  Photo credit:  NASA

SpaceX and NASA plan an in-flight abort test later this year where Dragon will be launched on a Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA and the abort system will be initiated in flight.  The date for the test will not be set until the results from this test are known.

This test is part of SpaceX’s Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCAP) agreement with NASA and a further step towards developing and certifying Dragon’s ability to carry crews to space as a commercial service for NASA — called “commercial crew.”   The current version of Dragon carries only cargo (one is attached to the ISS now).  The crew version, Dragon V2, is expected to be ready to take people to space by 2017. 

SpaceX and Boeing were selected by NASA last year for Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCAP) contracts, the final phase of the commercial crew development program and initiation of services.  Boeing is developing its own CST-100 spacecraft, which will be launched by United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rockets.

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