A Space Exploration Technologies’ passenger spaceship made a quick debut test flight on Wednesday (May 6), shooting itself off a Florida launch pad to demonstrate a key emergency escape system.
The 20 foot- (6 meter) tall Dragon capsule, a modified version of the spacecraft that flies cargo to the International Space Station, fired up its eight, side-mounted thruster engines at 9 a.m. EDT/1300 GMT to catapult itself nearly one mile (1.6 km) up and over the Atlantic Ocean.
SpaceX capsule launches with dummy in 1st test of crew escapeA Space Exploration Technologies' passenger spaceship made a quick debut test flight on Wednesday (May 6), shooting itself off a Florida launch pad to demonstrate a key emergency escape system.
The flight ended less than two minutes later with the capsule’s parachute splash-down about 1.4 miles (2.6 km) east of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station launch site.
The purpose of the test was to demonstrate an escape system to carry the capsule to safety in case of a fire or accident during launch. SpaceX plans to refly the capsule later this year aboard a Falcon 9 rocket to test an abort maneuver at supersonic speed and high altitude.
No humans were on board for this brief, first-of-its-kind flight and the whole thing lasted barely 1 1/2 minutes. A dummy was the only passenger.
The Dragon capsule shot off a test stand, not a rocket, and flew up and then out over the Atlantic. Rocket engines on the capsule provided the thrust. Red and white parachutes popped open and lowered the capsule into the ocean, just offshore.
NASA retired the shuttles in 2011 and invested in commercial companies’ designs for a new generation of space taxis. The U.S. space agency currently is investing $6.8 billion in privately owned SpaceX and Boeing.
The California-based company led by billionaire Elon Musk aims to launch U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station as early as 2017. Boeing is designing its own crew capsule. NASA wants to make sure the commercial crew flights will be safe in an emergency, and is insisting on reliable escape systems.
Story compiled with information from Reuters and The Associated Press.