CAPE CANAVERAL – NASA announced on Dec. 18 that SpaceX upcoming In-Flight Abort Test of the Crew Dragon capsule will happen no earlier than Jan. 11, 2020. This is a set back of one week from the earlier announced Jan. 4, 2020 date. This comes less than two week after NASA announced the original launch date. This could be indicative that the launch will be further delayed, but NASA and SpaceX seem to be holding firm for a January launch of Crew Dragon.
This test will be the most challenging event in the certification of the Crew Dragon vehicle for human flight. The test will see a launch of Crew Dragon atop a Falcon 9 rocket. At approximately T+01:30, SpaceX will send signals to the capsule to simulate a failure of the rocket at the point of maximum aerodynamic pressure on the vehicle, Max-Q. At the point of max-Q, the vehicle will be travelling at around Mach 2.5. The capsule will fire its Superdraco abort thrusters, pulling it up and away from the rocket. This test will provide data on Superdraco and capsule performance in the unlikely event of a failure during a crewed launch. The test is possibly the last certifying event before the first crewed flight, Crew Dragon Demo-2, which could happen as soon as February, but will most likely occur in quarter two of 2020.
This in-flight abort test is linked to the Commercial Crew contract with NASA as being up to the launch provider to determine if it is necessary. While SpaceX is conducting a test which has a high probability of destroying a Falcon 9 rocket, Boeing has elected to use pad abort test and digital modeling data to determine the capabilities of Starliner during an in-flight abort. NASA conducted a successful in-flight abort test of the Lockheed Martin built Orion capsule just a few months ago.
This launch will be unique in that watchers will witness an intentional rocket failure. It is sure to be very interesting and entertaining for those close enough to see it first hand.