SpaceX will again attempt to destroy one of its own rockets in a test of a crucial emergency abort system, a day after bad weather forced Elon Musk’s company to delay its final milestone test before flying NASA astronauts from US soil. High winds and choppy seas in the area where the spacecraft was expected to splashdown on Saturday delayed the dramatic inflight test of the unmanned astronaut capsule to Sunday.
The latest attempt will have a longer six-hour launch window starting at 8am ET (1pm GMT).
If the test is successful, SpaceX’s acorn-shaped Crew Dragon capsule, capable of carrying seven astronauts, will fire thrusters to detach itself from a Falcon 9 rocket less than two minutes after liftoff.
This will simulate an emergency abort scenario to prove the SpaceX pod can return astronauts to safety.
The test is crucial to qualify the capsule to fly humans to the International Space Station, a feat NASA expects to arrive as soon as mid-2020.
How to watch the SpaceX launch live online today:
The SpaceX Crew Dragon will launch from Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The launch will be simultaneously broadcast live online by SpaceX and NASA.
Starting about 20 minutes before lift-off, you can tune in to the above YouTube video, courtesy of SpaceX.
The rocket manufacturer said yesterday: “Tomorrow’s test will demonstrate Crew Dragon’s ability to separate from Falcon 9 and carry astronauts to safety in the unlikely event of an emergency on ascent.”
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The test follows years of development and delays as the US seeks to revive its human spaceflight program through private partnerships.
NASA awarded $4.2 billion (£3.23 billion) to Boeing and $2.5 billion (£1.9 billion) to SpaceX in 2014 to develop separate capsule systems capable of ferrying astronauts to the space station from US soil for the first time since NASA’s space shuttle program ended in 2011.
The space agency has since relied on Russian Soyuz spacecraft for trips to the orbiting space station.
During the test the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket’s boosters will shut down approximately 12 miles (19km) above the ocean, a mock failure that will trigger Crew Dragon’s so-called SuperDraco thrusters to jet itself away at supersonic speeds of up to 1,500mph (2,400kph).
The capsule will deploy three parachutes to slow its descent to the water, and will carry aboard two human-shaped test dummies fitted with motion sensors to collect data on the immense G-force astronauts would be subjected to during abort.
The test was originally scheduled for mid-2019 but was delayed after a Crew Dragon capsule exploded in April on a test stand just before firing its launch abort thrusters, triggering a lengthy investigation.
SpaceX-led investigators in July discovered a previously unknown explosive reaction between a titanium valve and a propellant used to ignite the thrusters.
A SpaceX official said the company completed the investigation within the last week.
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