The Facility at Cape Canaveral just received a tremendous new delivery: A Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule that will probably be using for an upcoming in-flight abort test. This test, which will reveal the spacecraft and launch system’s capability to abort the launch mid-flight in case of any emergencies, is an essential and vital step before SpaceX can fly Crew Dragon with any actual people on board.
This test will replicate a “worst-case scenario” of types, by staging a crew capsule separation on the point of “Max Q,” which is the part of the launch where the rocket is exposed to probably the most extreme atmospheric forces before making it to space. At this point through the abort test, the Crew Dragon will show that it could detach from the Falcon 9 rocket and propel itself away to a safe distance to protect the astronauts on board.
Back in 2015, SpaceX accomplished the lead-up to this, which was a pad abort test that demonstrated the escape process in case the mission needs to be canceled earlier before the spacecraft has left the launch pad. Earlier this year, SpaceX was conducting an abort test for its SuperDraco rocket engine for Crew Dragon when an error triggered an explosion that destroyed the capsule. Since that was supposed to be the capsule used for this in-flight test, SpaceX needed to end manufacturing a new one before this test could take place.
Now that the rocket and capsule are each on the Cape, the test shouldn’t be that far off. That’s excellent news for SpaceX, which remains to be targeting the end of this year for its first crewed demonstration flight for Crew Dragon — though even the company’s leadership has indicated that’s an increasingly difficult target to hit, given where we’re in the year.