SpaceX completes successful abort test launch of Dragon crew capsule

SpaceX successfully completed an abort test launch of its Dragon Crew capsule on Sunday morning. The test was originally scheduled for Saturday morning but was scrubbed because of weather conditions.

The launch happened at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, with crowds of onlookers watching in the Cape Canaveral area. 

"I feel like it's very important just because this is a big step for manned missions, especially for private companies like SpaceX because this is very new and they have to test that before they do anything else," said Ethan Pepper, an Embry-Riddle freshman who witnessed the launch.

The launch is an important one for SpaceX and NASA as the commercial crew program continues into the phase that many officials describe as “the final dress rehearsal.” The astronauts went through the steps they would take as if they were heading to the International Space Station (ISS), even going out onto the connector. However, they were not inside the Dragon Crew capsule when it blasted off. Instead, two crash dummies were in the seats.

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The simulation mimicked a disaster. For example, imagine the rocket is failing; imagine it’s about to catch on fire or blow up. At 84 seconds after ignition, the abort sequence started. Everything is sensor-driven, so the computers could tell that something was wrong and dangerous. Then, the rocket engines were killed, and the capsule’s thrusters kicked-on with the goal of sending the capsule as far away as possible from the booster. For the descent, parachutes opened with the goal of a gentle splashdown and recovery from a ship.

SpaceX has already proven the capsule can dock at the ISS and now they have proved the Dragon crew capsule can safely separate if disaster occurs. They are even more ahead of their direct competitor, Boeing.

NASA and SpaceX held a news conference shortly after the abort test launch and said that they do not expect to recover any of the exploded Falcon 9 rocket. Elon Musk, the chief engineer/designer of SpaceX, said that a crewed launch of the Dragon capsule is likely to occur in the second quarter of 2020.

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A launch of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket that was scheduled for Monday has been moved to Tuesday. The launch is to include another batch of the SpaceX Starlink communication satellites. The launch window opens at 11:59 a.m. ET.