By Annlee Ellingson – Staff Writer, L.A. Biz
SpaceX successfully completed a key test of the Crew Dragon on Wednesday with a full-duration static test fire of the spacecraft’s launch escape system.
The event is especially significant since it was during a similar test in April that an explosion destroyed another Crew Dragon In-Flight Abort test vehicle.
Full duration static fire test of Crew Dragon’s launch escape system complete – SpaceX and NASA teams are now reviewing test data and working toward an in-flight demonstration of Crew Dragon’s launch escape capabilities
Here’s how NASA described this week’s test on its blog:
The engine tests, conducted near SpaceX’s Landing Zone 1 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, began with two burns for a duration of one-second each for two of Crew Dragon’s 16 Draco thrusters. The Draco thrusters are used for on-orbit maneuvering and attitude control, and would also be used for re-orientation during certain in-flight launch escapes. Following these initial Draco thruster burns, the team completed a full-duration firing for approximately nine seconds of Crew Dragon’s eight SuperDraco engines. The SuperDraco engines are designed to accelerate Dragon away from the F9 launch vehicle in the event of an emergency after liftoff.
In quick succession, immediately after the SuperDracos shut down, two Dracos thrusters fired and all eight SuperDraco flaps closed, mimicking the sequence required to reorient the spacecraft in-flight to a parachute deploy attitude and close the flaps prior to reentry. The full sequence, from SuperDraco startup to flap closure, spanned approximately 70 seconds.
Things did not go so smoothly during a similar test in April, when an “anomaly” caused an explosion that destroyed the spacecraft. SpaceX and NASA investigated the incident and identified the cause as what amounted to a leaky valve. SpaceX redesigned components to prevent the same anomaly from happening again.
Next steps for SpaceX and NASA include reviewing the data from this week’s test, inspecting the hardware and setting a target launch date for the In-Flight Abort Test.
Barring any additional setbacks, SpaceX could fly a Crew Dragon to the space station with crew actually on board early next year.
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