Since the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s shuttle programme ended in 2011, it has used Russian ships to get its astronauts to the International Space Station. Elon Musk’s company, along with another private giant, Boeing, received billion-dollar-funding more than five years ago for NASA get its own transport to orbit.
SpaceX has finished an in-flight abort test of its Crew Dragon astronaut capsule, mimicking a landing after an emergency on an ascent. The carrier Falcon 9 was launched from Cape Canaveral. The unmanned craft splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean off Florida’s coast, descending with parachutes, after it separated from the rocket and its SuperDraco engines completed their burn 19 km above the ocean to simulate a launch failure.
People from all over the world could watch it live on Elon Musk’s aeronautic company’s social media pages.
Although the Crew Dragon can fit seven astronauts, for the test it carried two human-shaped dummies geared with sensors to track how the effect of acceleration on the body, which astronauts are subjected to during an emergency landing, would impact them.
The final test, which is designed to show that it can reliably carry astronauts to safety if there is an emergency, is a milestone for the return to ferrying NASA crews into outer space from American soil. As Reuters reports, NASA expects it to take place as soon as mid-2020.
NASA has been sending its astronauts to the International Space Station on Russian spacecraft since its shuttle programme ended in 2011. However, it has been working since 2014 to get back to doing so on American ships through private partnerships. Then, another US giant, Boeing, and SpaceX were awarded $4.2 billion and $2.5 billion respectively to develop pods for crews.
SpaceX was expected to run this crucial test in mid-2019, but its capsule exploded in April on a test stand. A lengthy investigation was launched, which was completed within the last week. It concluded that a previously unknown reaction between a titanium valve and a propellant was able to ignite the thrusters. This dramatic test, initially planned for Saturday, was also delayed, but this time due to high winds and choppy seas in the recovery area.
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