CAPE CANAVERAL, FL – It’s finally here, the highly anticipated SpaceX in-flight abort test is scheduled for Saturday but what should we expect?
We’ve been talking about this for over a year now but it appears that SpaceX is finally ready for a major demonstration this weekend. The in-flight abort test is a major demonstration for a few reasons but mainly because this is the final step before SpaceX starts putting astronauts onboard their crew Dragon capsule. They already performed their pad abort test that was back in 2015 and they’ve also got a demonstration mission to the International Space Station and back that was uncrewed in March of last year. In addition to that they’ve run a boatload of parachute tests to demonstrate the safety of their parachutes and now they’re finally ready to do that last step before they get crew on board. Now you may be aware that SpaceX has been preparing for this in flight abort test since last spring when in the lead-up to that test flight the crew Dragon capsule suffered an anomaly while they were testing the Super Draco engines on the ground.
The Super Draco engines are the abort motors that will pull the crew capsule to safely in the event of an anomaly and that’s what’s being demonstrated in this in-flight abort test and so after a thorough investigation, a little change to their fueling system designs and some more testing of their Super Draco Engines they’re finally ready to put this thing on a Falcon 9 rocket and let it fly. Now if you’re not up to speed on those design changes that they made to the Crew Dragon capsule you can check out my video that I did on that here.
Aside from the fact that this is a major step for SpaceX to get astronauts aboard their capsule this flight in particular is also a rare and unique opportunity for the general public to see SpaceX intentionally destroy one of their rockets. So here’s what’s gonna happen this is an uncrewed test flight but the preparations for liftoff will proceed as if there were crew on board. Although this is uncrewed we may actually see the return of an anthropomorphic test dummy like Ripley that was on board the DM-1 mission back in March or maybe we’ll see the return of that lovable earth plush which I call Space Kirby. Approximately 88 seconds after liftoff is when the magic happens. It’s at this point that the Falcon 9 rocket will reach the point of maximum aerodynamic pressure on the vehicle known as Max Q. When the vehicle reaches max Q the Falcon 9 will command its engines to shut down at that point the Crew Dragon capsule will initiates abort sequence pulling the capsule away from the Falcon 9 booster using those Super Draco engines, turning around, dropping the trunk and then parachuting safely into the ocean.
Once the Crew Dragon capsule separates from the Falcon 9 booster that booster is expected to become highly unstable because it no longer has the aerodynamic protection from the Crew Dragon capsule and so the Falcon 9 booster is expected to break up due to those aerodynamic forces on the booster itself and will be gone forever. SpaceX is not expected to use their flight termination system or AFTS so the chances of a huge fireball are relatively low, but I don’t think anybody really knows exactly what’s gonna happen when this whole event goes down. Personally I’m anticipating something that looks a little bit closer to like the 2015 CRS-7 anomaly which saw the breakup of the Falcon 9 rocket after a COPV failure or something like the 1965 Little Joe II flight which was an abort test but it was triggered early when the Little Joe rocket started rolling uncontrollably causing an early abortion breakup of the Little Joe vehicle. Either way there’s no chance of recovery for this Falcon 9 booster because SpaceX has taken off the grid fins and the landing legs so it’s not landing who knows maybe it just does a giant belly flop into the ocean.
The beautiful thing about all of this is that because it’s only 88 seconds after liftoff is that all of these events will happen relatively close to shore and there are tons of photographers and videographers that are heading to Cape Canaveral now to capture all of the excitement. This is not something you’re gonna want to miss so join me live at about 7:15 a.m. Eastern Time on Saturday the 18th, assuming it doesn’t get delayed, and hopefully we’ll all see SpaceX take one step closer to the finish line for launching American astronauts, on American Rockets, from American soil.