Planning the first launch abort test of the Dragon capsule.

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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.



  • Steve C

    Did any of the NASA capsules undergo a full-up, real launch test of the abort system?

  • That’s a very good question. I seem to remember that they did. I know they did abort tests of the Mercury capsule, but the rocket used was not a full Redstone but a short version called Little Joe, launched out of Wallops. I’m not sure if similar tests were done with Gemini or Apollo.

  • mpthompson

    The Little Joe II was used for Apollo. I remember building a model of it as a kid.

  • YES! I had forgotten about Little Joe II.

    I would think that SpaceX will not waste a full sized Falcon 9 on this test, but then, who knows? NASA might be forcing them to jump through hoops.

    Or, they might see this as an opportunity to test a vertical landing of that first stage! Now, wouldn’t that be cool!

  • Dick Eagleson

    The press release referred to Max-Q occurring ca. 73 sec. after launch for the in-flight abort test. I believe this is the normal timing for reaching Max-Q on a Falcon 9 launch carrying a full propellant load. If the in-flight abort test is run with an F-9R first stage equipped with flight-article landing legs, SpaceX could, one presumes, fly with a propellant load sufficient only to achieve Max-Q, then support a controlled return-to-launch-site (RTLS) recovery on one engine. This would be, in effect, a more eventful than usual up-and-down flight of the sort SpaceX already plans to run with the Grasshopper 2 at Spaceport America in New Mexico later this year. Doing so would avoid wasting a perfectly good F-9R first stage, but the lighter propellant load should cause a higher-G-than-normal liftoff and climbout and a correspondingly shorter time before Max-Q is reached if all nine 1-st stage engines are used at full power for liftoff. Maybe running all the 1st-stage engines at less than 100% throttle could compensate for the lighter propellant load. Or perhaps fewer than nine engines could be started for liftoff on this test in order to preserve the velocity/timing/altitude profile of a normal launch. I hope a more detailed flight plan description is published as the abort test date draws nearer. SpaceX likes to squeeze maximum useful results out of each flight mission. Adding a Grasshopper-oid RTLS test to the mandated in-flight abort test would be very much in keeping with this test philosophy. Plus, the resulting video would be uber-cool!

  • ken anthony

    They could use less fuel and just add weights, but what mass would be cheaper than just fully fueling it?

    Then again, do you want a fully fueled rocket trying to land?

    In any case, for it to be a real test the abort would have to occur at the right altitude and velocity.

    It should be a good show!

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