Jan 19, 2020

SpaceX launches test of abort system to keep astronauts safe

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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SpaceX test paves the way for first crewed flights to space station

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launching with a Crew Dragon atop. Photo: NASA TV/SpaceX

SpaceX completed a major test on Sunday, paving the way for the company's first crewed launch to the International Space Station. According to founder Elon Musk, SpaceX could launch its first astronauts for NASA by the second quarter of this year.

Why it matters: NASA holds contracts with SpaceX and Boeing to fly astronauts to the station, returning crewed launches to the U.S. for the first time since the end of the space shuttle program in 2011.

Go deeperArrowJan 21, 2020

Boeing's troubled Starliner mission could have been much worse

Boeing's uncrewed Starliner back on Earth after flight. Photo: NASA

A December flight test of Boeing's Starliner may have ended in the loss of the uncrewed spacecraft if major software problems weren't caught during the mission, NASA said Friday.

Why it matters: Boeing is expected to start flying NASA astronauts to the International Space Station on Starliner this year, but the test flight issues could push back Boeing's first crewed flight.

Go deeperArrowFeb 7, 2020 - Science

Northrop Grumman sends cheese and sweets to International Space Station

A Northrop Grumman Antares rocket, with Cygnus resupply spacecraft onboard, launches on Feb. 15. Photo: Aubrey Gemignani/NASA via Getty Images

Defense contractor and aerospace giant Northrop Grumman successfully launched its 13th supply run to the International Space Station on Saturday afternoon, which included cheese and candy for station astronauts.

Details: The launch followed multiple mission attempts this week that were foiled due to bad weather and launch pad equipment concerns, per AP. The Cygnus NG-13 launch at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia is carrying nearly 7,500 pounds of hardware, crew supplies and research, per NASA.

Go deeper: NASA looks to private companies to help commercialize low-Earth orbit