Success! SpaceX tests its revolutionary Crew Dragon that will take astronauts to the ISS in 2017
- The first test of SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft took place from Florida today at 2pm BST (9am EDT)
- The unmanned test flight saw the vehicle simulate an emergency on the launch pad and splashdown in the ocean
- It accelerated away from the ground, reaching 100mph in one second, with the flight lasting 99 seconds in total
- The milestone is necessary to be certified for manned space travel
SpaceX has successfully launched its new Crew Dragon spacecraft that will one day take astronauts into orbit.
The launch passed without a hitch today at almost exactly 2pm BST (9am EDT), with the capsule’s eight thrusters taking it into the air.
The total time from lift off to touchdown was one minute and 39 seconds, with the spacecraft successfully splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean to await being retrieved by a nearby ship.
Scroll down for a replay of the groundbreaking launch
SpaceX has launched its Crew Dragon spacecraft (shown) for the first time today. This was not a proper 'operational' launch, though, but instead it was a 'pad abort test' from a launch pad in Florida - a vital test to prove the spacecraft can safely carry astronauts
Their Crew Dragon vehicle demonstrated how it would detach from a rocket and carry astronauts to safety if there was an emergency on the launch pad, such as a risk of an explosion.
Within two years Nasa hopes that several private space companies - including SpaceX and Boeing - will begin taking astronauts into orbit, reducing its reliance on Russia's Soyuz spacecraft.
The test today was called a ‘pad abort test’, and took place from Space Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
It involved the manned vehicle launching to safety from a simulated emergency on the launch pad. The flight lasted just 99 seconds, eight seconds shorter than planned, but still successfully demonstrating how the crew would be carried to safety.
For example, if the rocket carrying the spacecraft was in danger some reason, Dragon would have to separate from the rocket and launch its crew away. For a spacecraft to be deemed safe for humans to travel in, it must be able to pass this test.
Previous manned rockets used a ‘rocket tower’ - essentially a long spike - on the top to carry a spacecraft to safety in an emergency.
But SpaceX’s revolutionary design uses eight ‘Draco thrusters’ on its side, which will one day also be used to land the spacecraft softly on the ground so it can launch again.
The capsule is seen here on the launch pad ahead of lift off, which took place almost exactly at the scheduled time
Left and right are two alternate shots of the capsule taking off. The thrust from its eight engines is clearly seen
Within one second of the launch, Crew Dragon had already reached the rapid speed of 100mph (160km)
The eight engines each produced 15,000 pounds of thrust to lift the spacecraft to about 5,000ft (1,500 metres) above the ground
Once at peak altitude, the spacecraft separated from the trunk section, seen here. For future flights, this will carry fuel and cargo
Here the spacecraft is seen fully separated from its trunk section. At the time its nose was pointing horizontally, so it needed to rotate to get its heat shield - the bottom of it - pointing towards the ground
Drogue parachutes were used to stabilise the spacecraft as it began to make its descent
It's hoped that future astronauts won't have to go through this parachute routine, as the thrusters on the spacecraft should be sufficient to land it safely on the ground
Here the spacecraft is seen with its main parachutes deployed as it descended into the ocean
On the left is the view from on board as the capsule made its way to the ground, and on the right is the view four seconds after splashdown
The spacecraft successfully touched down in the ocean one minute and 39 seconds after launching, where it awaits retrieval
HOW THE LAUNCH UNFOLDED
0 seconds: The eight SuperDraco engines ignited simultaneously and propelled the spacecraft off the pad.
0.5 seconds: After half a second, the Crew Dragon pitched towards the ocean and continue to fire its engines. It reached 100mph (160km/h) in just one second.
5 seconds: The engines cut off and the Dragon coasted for 15 seconds to its highest point, 5,000ft (1,500 metres) above the launch pad.
21 seconds: The ‘trunk’ (cargo section at the bottom) of the spacecraft was jettisoned, and the vehicle began a slow rotation to point its heat shield - its base - towards the ground again.
25 seconds: Small ‘drogue’ parachutes were deployed to stabilise the vehicle.
35 seconds: Three main parachutes deployed to slow the spacecraft for splashdown.
99 seconds: Dragon splashed down into the Atlantic Ocean about one mile (1.6km) offshore.
The engines can each produce 15,000 pounds of thrust, and are expected to lift the spacecraft to about 5,000ft (1,500 metres) above the ground.
For this test, the spacecraft parachuted into the Atlantic Ocean about a mile (1.6km) offshore, where recovery teams are now on hand to retrieve it.
On future missions to space, the Crew Dragon will be intended to land on the ground.
It will be capable of taking up to seven astronauts to and from orbit - such as the ISS - and SpaceX also has plans to use it on their proposed missions to Mars.
Conditions were just right for the launch to take place.
For the purposes of this test, the flight was unmanned save for a dummy on board named ‘Buster’.
The dummy was fitted with sensors to see how humans would cope with the intense acceleration needed to escape from a dangerous launch pad.
And in this test, the vehicle wasn't launched on top of a rocket either.
Instead, it will merely sat by itself on the pad, before its eight poweful thrusters fires it to 'safety'.
Dragon has splashed down into the Atlantic Ocean— SpaceX (@SpaceX) May 6, 2015
Crew Dragon will ultimately be capable of taking up to seven astronauts to and from orbit - such as the ISS - and SpaceX also has plans to use it on their proposed missions to Mars. Shown here is the cockpit, with futuristic digital displays used to monitor the spacecraft during launch
For the purposes of this test, the flight was unmanned save for a dummy on board (legs seen in the centre of this image). The dummy was fitted with sensors to see how humans would cope with the intense acceleration needed to escape from a dangerous launch pad
Within two years Nasa hopes that several private space companies - including SpaceX's Crew Draon (shown) and Boeing's CST-100 - will begin taking astronauts into orbit, reducing its reliance on Russia's Soyuz spacecraft.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted this picture before the launch, which shows the Crew Dragon performing a 'static fire' test on the ground - which means it remained stationary while it fired its engines
SpaceX’s revolutionary design uses eight ‘Draco thrusters’ on its side, which will one day also be used to land the spacecraft softly on the ground. Two of the thrusters are shown here. They are also the first rocket engines to be designed entirely by 3D printing
The launch took place at 2pm BST (9am EDT) - with the flight lasting just 99 seconds. Shown here is the path the spacecraft took, and how it maneuvred to land safely in the ocean
SpaceX is under contract with Nasa to start ferrying astronauts to low Earth orbit and the ISS, beginning in 2017, with the Crew Dragon (shown). Under the $2.6 billion contract, SpaceX will launch the Crew Dragon spacecraft atop the Falcon 9 launch vehicle from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida
The thrusters on the side will ultimately be used to enable the spacecraft to land softly back on the launch pad, shown in the illustration on the left, even when returning from a regular operational flight. And they may also be used on future missions to Mars, shown on the right
‘Fortunately the test doesn’t need to be perfect to be valuable - our primary objective is to capture as much data as possible as the data captured here will be key in preparing Crew Dragon for its first human missions in 2017,’ said SpaceX in a statement before the launch.
But the test represents a huge milestone in SpaceX’s ultimate goal to begin taking astronauts into space.
‘This is what SpaceX was basically founded for, human spaceflight,’ said Hans Koenigsmann, Vice President of Mission Assurance with SpaceX.
‘The pad abort is going to show that we've developed a revolutionary system for the safety of the astronauts, and this test is going to show how it works.
‘It's our first big test on the Crew Dragon.’
Previous manned rockets used a ‘rocket tower’ - essentially a long spike - on the top to carry a spacecraft to safety in an emergency. That launch abort system is seen on the left on a modern Soyuz rocket (circled in the red ring), and on the right during a test of the Apollo launch abort system in 1965
In this May 29, 2014 photo, Elon Musk, CEO and CTO of SpaceX, introduces the SpaceX Dragon V2 spaceship - now referred to as Crew Dragon - at the SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California. Nasa also selected Boeing's CST-100 as another private vehicle they will use to take astronauts to space
Crew Dragon will ultimately be used to take astronauts to the ISS, shown here in this artist's imperssion. Astronauts on the ISS recently installed the necessary docking rings for private spacecraft - including Crew Dragon and Boeing's CST-100 - to attach to the station
The vehicle was packed with sensors - including temperature sensors, acoustic sensors and microphones - to get as much data as possible.
‘This is basically a flying instrumentation deck. At the end of the day, that’s the point of tests, to get lots of data,’ added Mr Koenigsmann.
The next goal for the Crew Dragon will be an in-flight abort test, when the same launch abort system will be used to carry the spacecraft to safety during an actual launch mid-flight.
This next test is expected later this year, with flights to the ISS beginning in 2017, while the next SpaceX launch - the seventh Dragon cargo supply mission to the ISS - will take place atop a Falcon 9 rocket on 15 June.
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