Jan 19, 2020 - Science

SpaceX launches test of abort system to keep astronauts safe

A top-down view of a Crew Dragon capsule atop a Falcon 9 rocket. (Artist's illustration)

Artist's illustration of a Crew Dragon atop a Falcon 9 rocket. Illustration: SpaceX

SpaceX on Sunday completed an in-flight test of its abort system designed to keep astronauts safe in the event of an emergency during launch.

Why it matters: The test marks the last major milestone ahead of SpaceX's first crewed flight to the International Space Station for NASA.

The state of play: SpaceX's Crew Dragon was launched atop a Falcon 9 from Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 10:30 a.m. ET.

  • Not long after launch, the Crew Dragon's onboard engines propelled the capsule away from the Falcon 9 to simulate what would happen in the event of an emergency during ascent.
  • The Falcon 9 broke up after the Crew Dragon accelerated away from the rocket, as expected.
  • The Crew Dragon then splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean where recovery teams are on hand to grab it and bring it back to shore.

Between the lines: This was a particularly important test for SpaceX after one of the company's Crew Dragons was destroyed during a ground test in April.

What's next: SpaceX and NASA will now review the data gathered during the test to see how the Crew Dragon performed during its flight and splashdown.

  • NASA hasn't yet announced a date for SpaceX's first crewed flight to the station, but it's expected to occur in the first part of the year.
  • Boeing has also been working toward launching its own crewed system to the space station, but the company experienced a setback when its uncrewed Starliner capsule wasn't able to dock with the orbiting outpost during a test in December.

Go deeper: The make-or-break moment for U.S. spaceflight

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