SpaceX deliberately aborted the launch of a Falcon 9 rocket this past Sunday minutes into its flight to demonstrate the Crew Dragon launch escape system.
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft “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.”
Today on the SpaceQ podcast we’ve got a special episode for you. On Sunday, January 19 SpaceX performed the Crew Dragon in-flight abort test. By all accounts, and from what I saw, it was a successful test. This means the next launch of the SpaceX Crew Dragon, Demo Mission 2, will carry NASA astronauts to the International Space Station.
As you’ll hear, there’s still more to do before that launch happens. That launch could be as early as this spring, but is more likely to slip into the summer.
But make no mistake about it, this was the final major flight milestone that needed to be accomplished before America begins launching astronauts on American rockets from American soil for the first time since 2011, nine years ago.
And it won’t just be SpaceX launching astronauts to the ISS. Although Boeing’s recent launch of its Starliner spacecraft didn’t go according to plan, and included, what some have characterized as an embarrassing timing issue, the Starliner spacecraft will follow SpaceX and launch astronauts to the ISS.
And that America will be back to launching astronauts on American rockets this year is a very big deal. Not just for what it means for NASA, but for what it means to the commercial sector and in particular SpaceX.
When Elon Musk started SpaceX his long term goal was to send humans to Mars. With Crew Dragon about to carry its first astronauts into space, making that dream become a reality is very much closer. And while NASA is the first customer you can bet there will be other customers and that SpaceX, which has its own astronauts, will eventually be sending them on their own private missions. And let’s not forget about Yusaku Maezawa, the Japanese billionaire who is paying SpaceX to send him around the moon. That mission could happen before NASA returns to the moon with the Artemis program.
But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.
I invite you to listen in now to the Crew Dragon in-flight abort test post-launch news conference held at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The participants were NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine, Elon Musk of SpaceX, Kathy Lueders, manager, NASA Commercial Crew Program and the two NASA astronauts that will be on the next launch, Bob Behknen and Doug Hurley.