In this week’s tech news, Elon Musk made the headlines again! On Sunday, 10:30 AM ET, SpaceX launched its Falcon 9 rockets from Cape Canaveral, Florida. This last flight was an intended safety test for NASA, which could prove that the Crew Dragon on top of the rocket could protect the passengers in case of an emergency. This launch could set the stage for NASA to send passengers to space towards the end of this year.
The Crew Dragon is a passenger spacecraft constructed by SpaceX for NASA’s Commercial Crew program. However, as per the standard procedures, the company must test these crafts before any passenger is placed on it. On Sunday, SpaceX carried out a mock in-flight abort test to assess the effectiveness of the craft, after launching it into the air.
While the company had carried out tests on this spacecraft before, the results were insufficient as those tests were conducted while the rocket was on the ground. To test the worst-case scenario, with the emergency pod placed on top of the rocket, SpaceX and NASA agreed to sacrifice the Falcon 9.
The escape structure of Crew Dragon is built with eight SuperDraco engines, which are implanted on the outer hull of the pod. These small propulsive devices can start firing if the Falcon 9 rocket-with the Crew Dragon, experiences a failure during the launch. The SuperDraco can thrust the pod away from the rocket.
Once the spacecraft is at a safe distance, the Crew Dragon can instil its four parachutes to lower itself carefully into the Atlantic Ocean. As soon as the spacecraft lands into the ocean, it can be rescued by the recovery boat.
With the SuperDracos engine, the Crew Dragon managed to move a mile away from the Falcon 9 rocket. In addition to this, the capsule reached an altitude of 131,000 feet! While the Crew Dragon did not host any human life during the test, it did place two smart robots to collect inside information about the launch. Once the test was completed, both the robots, as well as the spacecraft, were recovered by the safety boat.
The company counted on losing the rocket before the test. However, the diligence of the test depended entirely on sacrificing it. The Falcon 9 immediately caught fire after the Crew Dragon detached itself from the rocket. As the rocket was fully fuelled for the launch, the propellant lit up instantly. In fact, the rocket exploded just ten seconds after the Crew Dragon detached itself. This gave the pod enough time to travel to a safe distance. However, according to Elon Musk, the distance was insignificant as the spacecraft is designed to endure heat, so it can easily pass through the fiery rocket.
“Since the spacecraft has a very powerful base heat shield, it should not really be significantly affected by the fireball,” Musk stated. “It could quite literally look like something out of Star Wars, where it flies right out of the fireball.”
SpaceX CEO, Elon Musk was pleased with the launch. In a press conference after the test, he stated, “As far as we can tell, it was a picture-perfect mission.” Musk was fairly confident about landing headlines in tech news once again!
However, Musk wasn’t the only one who watched the launch intently. In fact, NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, along with their families, watched the launch to see the safety procedures first-hand. The duo is expected to be the first passenger who will ride the Crew Dragon.
In a press conference following the launch, Doug Hurley stated, “Our families were certainly watching from back home. Obviously, they’re keenly interested in those kinds of things. You have a whole bunch of different things that go through your mind, emotions that you experience during launch. This is a key one leading up to our launch, so I think that part of it is pretty exciting.”
While this test has received positive results, a lot of work still needs to be done on the Crew Dragon before it is ready for its official launch. According to Elon Musk, The first official flight in the Crew Dragon can be expected to take place by the second quarter of this year. He stated, “Anyone who has an adventurous bone in their body is going to be very excited about this.”