Wednesday, May 6, 2015

SpaceX Capsule Splashes Down In Atlantic Ocean After Successful Launch

SpaceX Crew Dragon Splash Down
Credit: NASA / Kim Shifflet
CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida -- Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) successfully launched its new pad abort system aboard a Crew Dragon space capsule at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, May 6, 2015, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The Crew Dragon simultaneously fired its eight SuperDraco for about six seconds, instantly producing about 15,000 pounds of thrust each and lifting the spacecraft out over the Atlantic Ocean before jettisoning its trunk, as planned, and parachuting safely into the ocean off Florida's Space Coast. The test lasted about two minutes from engine ignition to splashdown.

SpaceX Crew Dragon Launch
Credit: NASA / Kim Shifflet
The trunk, an unpowered cylinder with stabilizing fins, detached from the spacecraft when it reached maximum altitude and fell back to Earth, while the capsule rotated on as planned for a couple seconds before unfurling its drogue parachutes, which then deployed the main parachutes. Boat crews have begun the process of retrieving the Crew Dragon from the ocean and returning it to land for further analysis.
SpaceX Crew Dragon Test Dummy
Credit: SpaceX
The test did not have any humans aboard the Crew Dragon. That's why the spacecraft was outfitted with 270 sensors and carried a human-sized test-dummy (which SpaceX recently said is not named "Buster" - that is the name of the test dummy from the television series MythBusters) that measured acceleration and other forces throughout the test.

“SpaceX was founded with the goal of carrying people to space, and today’s pad abort test represented an important milestone in that effort,” said Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX president and chief operating officer. “Our partnership with NASA has been essential for developing Crew Dragon, a spacecraft that we believe will be the safest ever flown. Today’s successful test will provide critical data as we continue toward crewed flights in 2017.

The pad abort test is a payment milestone funded by the Commercial Crew Program under a partnership agreement established with the company in 2012. The agency awarded contracts last year to Boeing and SpaceX to build their respective systems for flight tests and operational missions to the space station. Known as Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts, the awards allow continued work on Boeing’s CST-100 and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon at a pace that is determined by their respective builders, but that also meets NASA's requirements and its goal of flying crews in 2017.

"Our partners have met many significant milestones and key development activities so far, and this pad abort test provides visual proof of one of the most critical safety requirements -- protecting a crew in the event of a major system failure," said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

NASA already is preparing the space station for commercial crew spacecraft and the larger station crews that will be enabled by SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and Boeing’s CST-100. NASA plans to use the new generation of privately developed and operated spacecraft to carry as many as four astronauts each mission, increasing the station crew to seven and doubling the amount of science that can be performed off the Earth, for the Earth.

SpaceX Crew Dragon Test Flight Diagram
Credit: SpaceX