SpaceX Blows Up Rocket, Successful Test of In-Flight Abort System for Crew Dragon

Featured Image: SpaceX Falcon 9 disintegrates into a fireball during the In-Flight Abort test on Sunday (Jan 19). (Image Credit: Next Horizons Spaceflight/Stephen Marr)

Liftoff of Falcon 9, the final launch for this booster, which was destroyed in the test. (Image credit: Next Horizons Spaceflight/Steven Keagle)

UPDATE, 12:04 pm: Per Elon Musk and Jim Bridenstine during the post-launch presser, the hardware for Demo-2 will be ready no later than March, with an eye on a Q2 (second quarter) launch of crew. Some concerns from NASA’s end are in the duration of the mission. If it is extended beyond the planned seven days, it would require more training for the Demo crew, so that they are able to contribute to the ISS mission.

CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA – Its not a thing you see everyday. As the SpaceX Falcon 9 ascended into the heavens, all systems were operating perfectly. Then, something went wrong. Power to the nine Merlin engines failed. The Crew Dragon capsule, sensing the loss of thrust, operated quickly to save itself. It detonated small explosive in the frangible bolts connecting booster to capsule, then it fired it’s SuperDraco engines, pulling itself away from the rapidly deteriorating Falcon 9. As it pulled away, the Falcon 9 disintegrated into a fireball, but the passengers were safe. After the firing of the SuperDracos, the Crew Dragon continued to ascend, burning off the upward momentum imparted on it by the Falcon 9 before the failure. In a gentle arc, the spaceship rose, then fell back towards the Earth. The drogue parachutes deployed, then the main parachutes, slowing the capsule to a gentle landing in the Atlantic, about 30 km offshore.

The Falcon Must Die for the Dragon to Fly

Skip to 22:54 for launch. This is the entirety of the test from SpaceX’s feed.

Of course, this was all planned. This was the In-Flight Abort test of the Crew Dragon capsule, the final test before SpaceX can begin sending humans to the ISS from US soil. In the near future, two astronauts, Douglas “Chunky” Hurley and Bob Behnken, will board that same capsule and launch aboard a Falcon 9 to the ISS. As of the time of this writing, SpaceX is currently working on the recovery operation to bring the capsule back to Cape Canaveral. While all signs looked good from the ground and from the video stream, the real test results will be the information gathered by the in-seat sensors aboard Crew Dragon.

Disintegration as seen from the edge of the exclusion zone.

Crew Dragon will require substantial refurbishment before the Demo-2 flight happens, but SpaceX has been optimistic that if this test is successful, they could potentially launch astronauts as early 2020 Q2. Considering this test alone, we extend our congratulations to Elon Musk and the whole team at SpaceX for making such extraordinary vehicles and truly turning the launch vehicle market on its head.