April 9, 2020

Astronomy Video of the Week: A Ride with Dragon

Launch! Image credit: SpaceX

Whoa.

How would you escape from the launch pad in an emergency? Recently, SpaceX demonstrated just such a capability with the abort test of its Dragon capsule, carried out on May 6th at Cape Canaveral. This is a crucial step towards certifying the spacecraft for crewed missions, which are expected to begin in April 2017. Dragon went from 0 to 100 mph in just 1.2 seconds, and reached a maximum velocity of 345 mph.

It was amazing to watch, and almost more interesting than a run-of-the-mill rocket launch. SpaceX also released a video in the past week showing the test from the perspective of the capsule itself:

Powered by eight SuperDraco engines, the capsule can be seen rocketing away from the pad for a splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean just under two minutes later. It would be a wild ride to safety indeed for any astronauts aboard. Though capsule-style spacecraft since the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo eras have come equipped with similar escape systems, they’ve only been used in a real emergency situation on the pad exactly once: during the aborted launch of Soyuz T-10a on September 26th, 1983 due to a launch pad fire.

You can see the lower trunk of the Dragon capsule eject about midway through flight, as the surrounding Florida coastline swells into view and the parachutes deploy. Preliminary indications show that the test went ahead and was completed as planned.

And though crewed Dragon flights are still a ways off, you can catch the next launch of the Falcon 9 rocket with the launch of an uncrewed Dragon capsule coming right up this month on June 26th from Cape Canaveral on CRS-7.

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