Tag Archives: launch abort test

Tank tests for launch abort rocket

The competition heats up: This week SpaceX conducted at Vandenberg a tank test of the booster rocket that will be used for its Dragon in-flight launch abort test later this year.

That they are doing these tank tests at Vandenberg is interesting. I would think the actual abort test would take place at Kennedy, where astronauts will be launched. Either the company is taking advantage of its second launchpad to save time while Kennedy is in use for Monday’s Dragon launch, or they will actually do this launch abort test out west. In truth the test can be done from Vandenberg. The flight path will be different, but the technical requirements will be essentially the same.

Note that this booster is for the in-flight launch abort flight, scheduled at this moment for July, not the launchpad abort test, scheduled at this moment for May 2.

Also, it is interesting to compare the pictures of SpaceX’s Vandenberg launchpad in this article with the pictures I took when I visited Vandenberg two weeks ago. Then, the pad was quiet, with no rocket visible (though it is likely that this booster stage was inside the building being prepared). Now it is quite busy.

Planning the first launch abort test of the Dragon capsule.

Planning the first launch abort test of the Dragon capsule.

The in-flight abort test will take place along Florida’s space coast. During the test, a Dragon spacecraft will launch on a standard Falcon 9 rocket and an abort command will be issued approximately 73 seconds into the flight. At that point, the spacecraft will be flying through the area of maximum dynamic pressure, or Max Q, where the combination of air pressure and speed will cause maximal strain on the spacecraft.

Dragon will be outfitted with about 270 special sensors to measure a wide variety of stresses and acceleration effects on the spacecraft. An instrumented mannequin, similar to a crash test dummy, also will be inside. The spacecraft’s parachutes will deploy for a splashdown in the Atlantic, where a ship will be pre-positioned for simulated rescue operations. The test spacecraft will be returned to Port Canaveral by barge so data can be retrieved and incorporated into the system’s design.

The test is presently scheduled for the summer of 2014.

NASA has delayed the first test flight of Orion’s launch abort system by two years to 2017.

NASA has delayed the first test flight of Orion’s launch abort system by two years to 2017.

NASA officials have been warning since last year that work on Orion would be slowed to keep pace with the development of SLS and its launch infrastructure. The agency has proposed trimming Orion’s $1.2 billion budget back to $1 billion for 2013. With the high-altitude abort test facing at least a budget-driven delay, the Langley team has proposed conducting one or more less-expensive tests in its place. Ortiz said conducting a hot-fire test in 2015 or 2016 would “keep the [launch abort system] project moving forward and help alleviate risk.”

I predict that Dragon will not only test its launch abort system first, it will have humans flying on it before Orion. And Dragon will do this for a fraction of the total cost that Orion and SLS spend per year. I also predict that when Dragon does this, Congress will finally begin noticing this disparity, and SLS will die unlaunched.