SpaceX capsule with emergency escape system to be tested

A simulated launch pad abort scenario will reveal the efficacy of a new rocket-powered emergency escape system.
By Kathy Fey | May 05, 2015
SpaceX will soon be launching a Dragon capsule equipped with a rocket-powered escape system designed to eject astronauts safely from a vehicle in the event of an impending booster failure around the time of liftoff.

During the test launch, the unmanned capsule will accelerate straight upwards, reaching a speed of 100 mph in just one second. At about 4,500 feet up, the space capsule and an attached trunk section will separate. Parachutes will deploy, and the capsule should experience a safe splashdown half a mile from Cape Canaveral.

According to CBS News, the test flight, scheduled for Wednesday, will last less than two minutes. "It doesn't last long," Garrett Reisman of SpaceX said. "The boost phase is only a few seconds, and it's pulling almost 5 Gs when it's coming off the pad, so it's going to get out of here in a hurry. My advice to you, if you go outside to watch it, is don't blink."

This test will mark the first time that SpaceX has put the new system through its paces in a launch scenario. "This is a test flight, so there are a lot of uncertainties," Reisman said. "This is the first time we're ever going to have Dragon fly by itself in the atmosphere."

SpaceX has contracted with NASA to develop a version of its Dragon cargo ship that can be piloted. The intent is for the ship to deliver astronauts to and from the International Space Station, and the escape system is a key feature of the craft's design.

"We're proud to have a launch escape system in case the Falcon 9 (rocket) is having a bad day, the Dragon crew can get to safety," Reisman said. "It's a capability we had on Gemini and Apollo, and we have it on the Soyuz, but we did not enjoy that on the shuttle. We're bringing that back to try and make sure our crews are super safe."

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