Watch: SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Takes A Rough Emergency System Test

SpaceX is banking on its commercial space taxi, Crew Dragon to fly seven astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) in an orbital mission to …

SpaceX is banking on its commercial space taxi, Crew Dragon to fly seven astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) in an orbital mission to and from Earth. So far, the American aerospace company has completed over 700 tests of the space cab’s SuperDraco engines, that allow for orbital maneuvering.

SEE ALSO: NASA Astronauts Try On Next-Gen SpaceX Spacesuits For The 2020 Mars Mission

Now, the Crew Dragon is being tested rigorously for its emergency abort system, as per a video that was posted by SpaceX on Twitter. The dramatic video shows the space cab outfitted with eight SuperDraco engines, allowing it to cover half a mile in just 7.5 seconds at the time of an emergency, as tweeted by SpaceX. The maximum speed that the Crew Dragon can reach at this point is 436 metres per hour.

Ahead of our in-flight abort test for @Commercial_Crew—which will demonstrate Crew Dragon’s ability to safely carry astronauts away from the rocket in the unlikely event of an emergency—our team has completed over 700 tests of the spacecraft’s SuperDraco engines pic.twitter.com/nswMPCK3F9

— SpaceX (@SpaceX) September 12, 2019

Fired together at full throttle, Crew Dragon’s eight SuperDracos can move the spacecraft 0.5 miles—the length of over 7 American football fields lined up end to end—in 7.5 seconds, reaching a peak velocity of 436 mph

— SpaceX (@SpaceX) September 12, 2019

As the system deploys mid-air, parachutes ensure that the craft safely lands back on Earth. This mechanism is carefully designed for when something goes wrong with the rocket carrying the Crew Dragon to orbit. The module, thus, can fire up its thrusters to quickly evade the danger and then, balloon down sustaining minimal damage to the craft.

SEE ALSO: SpaceX Dragon Returns To Earth From The International Space Station With Science Hauls for NASA

But it hasn’t always been a smooth ride testing out the Crew Dragon. The same engines that make up the integrated launch system, caused the first Crew Dragon capsule to blow up during a system check in April. The explosion happened due to a leaking valve. As per Digital Trends, the aerospace company’s Falcon 9 booster launched the Crew Dragon capsule into orbit on July 25. The Dragon capsule contains 5,500 pounds worth of equipment for experiments and ongoing scientific research to supply the ISS.

As SpaceX is perfecting its soon-to-be-manned capsule, it tested out the first stage of its Falcon 9 boosters that will be responsible for launching two NASA astronauts into orbit as a part of Crew Dragon’s first-ever chartered test flight. The exact date of that test flight is still uncertain.

SEE ALSO: SpaceX To Launch Its First Commercial Starship Mission In 2021

Watch SpaceX Test Its Crew Dragon’s Escape System

SpaceX just posted dramatic footage of its commercial space taxi Crew Dragon undergoing rigorous tests of its emergency abort system. The idea is …

Abort! Abort!

SpaceX just posted dramatic footage of its commercial space taxi Crew Dragon undergoing rigorous tests of its emergency abort system.

The idea is that if something goes wrong with the rocket carrying the Crew Dragon to orbit, the module can engage its own thrusters to quickly escape the danger — and then coast down safely on a parachute.

Ahead of our in-flight abort test for @Commercial_Crew—which will demonstrate Crew Dragon’s ability to safely carry astronauts away from the rocket in the unlikely event of an emergency—our team has completed over 700 tests of the spacecraft’s SuperDraco engines pic.twitter.com/nswMPCK3F9

— SpaceX (@SpaceX) September 12, 2019

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The spacecraft is outfitted with eight SuperDraco engines, allowing it to cover half a mile in just 7.5 seconds during an emergency, reaching a top speed of 436 mph, according to a follow-up tweet. Parachutes ensure that the craft safely lands back on Earth after the system deploys.

But testing hasn’t always gone according to plan. The same engines were responsible for blowing up the first Crew Dragon capsule during a system test in April.

Last week, SpaceX tested the first stage of its Falcon 9 boosters that will be responsible for launching two NASA astronauts into orbit as part of Crew Dragon’s first-ever crewed test flight. When exactly that test flight will take place is still uncertain.

Space: Soyuz Sunset

All this new spaceflight development was the result of commercial firms, like SpaceX (Space Exploration Technologies Corporation) rapidly …

September 11, 2019: Despite delays in final testing of two new American manned space vehicles, in late August the European Space Agency (ESA) informed Russia that they would no longer be using Russian Soyuz rockets to send ESA personnel to the International Space Station (ISS). Two American systems (Dragon 2 and Starliner) are expected to complete test flights and be available by early 2020. The last ESA use of Soyuz for ISS staff transport was in July. The ESA decision came despite an April test of Dragon 2 in which one of the new SuperDraco engines exploded during a ground test of these engines installed in a Dragon 2 capsule. Within three months the cause (a faulty valve) had been identified, verified and addressed. A new component will replace the valve and another test, plus a flight test is still possible by the end of 2019. That would have the flight test at least three months later than originally planned prior to the April test failure. The other American manned space vehicle, the Starliner, also encountered some testing delays but is expected to conduct unmanned and manned flight tests by early 2020.

All this new spaceflight development was the result of commercial firms, like SpaceX (Space Exploration Technologies Corporation) rapidly developing more effective rockets and satellite launchers. SpaceX was founded in 2002 with the goal of breaking into a market controlled by long-time suppliers. By 2002 these veteran firms had formed a legal cartel that monopolized satellite launch services for the U.S. government. After 2006 all this business was to have gone to a government-approved monopoly called the ULA (United Launch Alliance) which is composed of Lockheed Martin (using Atlas 5 rockets) and Boeing (Delta 4). These two firms have dominated U.S. space launches for over half a century and in 2006 they monopolized it. But not for long, as the future arrived unexpectedly.

In 2012 SpaceX obtained its first contract to launch U.S. military cargo into space. SpaceX had earlier obtained a NASA contract which included 12 deliveries to the International Space Station (at $134 million each). What made all this so noteworthy is that SpaceX is the first privately owned space transportation company. SpaceX developed its own launch rockets without any government help. SpaceX also developed the Dragon space vehicle, for delivering personnel and supplies to the International Space Station.

SpaceX has since proved that its rockets work and is proving that the SpaceX rockets can really do the job cheaper. Moreover ULA was receiving billion dollar a year subsidies from the government that SpaceX did not require. SpaceX still had to get all the paperwork and approvals done so they could handle classified missions. Foe SpaceX that was not a problem as they were already prepared to spend a year or so to satisfy all the bureaucrats and regulations.

This all got stated because the U.S. was desperate for some innovation in space flight technology and offered to do business with private space flight firms if the new companies could demonstrate their approach worked. Several such firms were formed after 2000 to provide new tech and there have been a growing number of successes. One of those was a new space engine (SuperDraco) for manned orbital space craft that will enable the craft to land or dock with greater ease and accuracy and also provide an escape option for personnel on a launcher that runs into trouble before reaching orbit.

SuperDraco is a variant on the Draco engines that already power the SpaceX launcher capsule during reentry after trips to the ISS or some other orbital mission. SuperDraco uses a storable liquid fuel which enables it to more effectively be turned on and off while on a space mission. SuperDraco development had proceeded without much incident until the April 2019 mishap. Yet such catastrophic flaws had to be planned for and hanlded effectively. What made SuperDraco more capable, reliable and cheaper was the use of 3-D printers to build engine components out of high-tech alloys. SpaceX was quick to adopt industrial grade 3-D printers that produce metal objects and use them for creating prototype and production parts. Since these rocket engines are not produced in large quantities, the higher expense of using a 3-D printer is not a factor. SuperDraco is considered the first of a new generation of space flight equipment created using 3-D printers and silicon prototyping (using high res computer models to design and test new designs before building and testing a full scale one). That rapid design and fabrication made it possible to quickly develop and manufacture new components to replace those that had failed during testing.

Within a decade of its founding SpaceX managed to break the decades old cartel controlling U.S. government satellite launch services. Lockheed Martin had been getting a lot more launch business because the Russian RD-180 engine of the Atlas 5 was a more attractive (in terms of performance and price) option than the rival Delta 4. Unfortunately because of the 2014 Russian misbehavior in Ukraine and American threats the Russians cancelled the RD-180 deal. SpaceX stepped up and said it would have an Atlas 5 replacement ready in a few years. This led the Russians to reconsider their RD-180 threats. But even resuming RD-180 shipments did not stop SpaceX.

This SpaceX pledge was not an idle boast. Dragon made its first cargo delivery to the ISS in 2012 and has since made 17 successful deliveries, including one that carried live animals (mice) for ISS experiments and multiple reuse of Dragon spacecraft. SpaceX quickly proved that its rockets worked and demonstrated repeatedly that SpaceX rockets could do the job cheaper. For example a ULA rocket launch that cost $420 million could be done by SpaceX for $90 million. ULA quickly became a lot more efficient and less expensive. But not quickly enough because SpaceX kept developing and putting into use cheaper and more effective technologies.

By 2018 it was clear that the ULA monopoly was gone for good and the ULA cartel resigned itself to continued downsizing and efforts to duplicate SpaceX technologies in an effort to stay in business. Even the Russians reluctantly admitted that the SpaceX reusable rockets, which repeatedly returned to earth and landed intact under their own power, had fundamentally changed the launcher business. The ULA, as well as European and Chinese space launcher operations had to adapt to avoid losing all their commercial (and some of their military) business.

What gave Russia its monopoly was the 2011 U.S. Space Shuttle retirement. After that last 2011 shuttle flight Russia found it had a monopoly on delivering personnel and cargo to the ISS. So Russia raised it prices for a trip to the ISS 20 percent, to $63 million per person (including 50 kg/110 pounds of accompanying baggage). That’s quite a bit more than what it cost to send someone up via the U.S. Space Shuttle. Although mainly a cargo vehicle, for carrying stuff into orbit at a cost of about $25 million a ton, the Shuttle also carried six crew or passengers, in addition to the flight crew of two. For the moment, Russia is the only country with the capability to get people up to the ISS and back. The Russian Soyuz delivery module monopoly was not expected to last long. That was because the Space Shuttle was 56 meters long, weighed 2,000 tons and had a payload of 24 tons. All its proposed replacements are smaller and much cheaper.

For example, in 2011 Japan launched its second Kounotori (White Stork) HTV orbital delivery vehicle. Carried into LEO (low earth orbit of about 400 kilometers up) by a Japanese H-IIB launcher, the HTV carried 5.3 tons of supplies to the ISS. Japan was one of several nations building cargo and passenger vehicles to help keep the ISS staffed and supplied. The January HTV trip had the vehicle docked to the ISS for two months, so that it could be used for some experiments. Then the HTV was be filled with discarded material from the ISS, and launched towards earth, to burn up on reentry. Japan considered upgrading the HTV to carry personnel and be able to return like the Russian Soyuz space vehicles, with people, and be reused after refurbishment but that did not happen. The 10.5 ton cylindrical HTV is 10 meters (31 feet) long and four meters in diameter. It is equipped with maneuvering rockets, plus a guidance system and communications gear. Max carrying capacity is six tons.

The ESA developed the unmanned ATV (Automated Transfer Vehicle) spacecraft for supplying the ISS. The ATV hoped to completely replace the existing Russian Soyuz and Progress systems, especially if ESA and Russia could work out a cooperation deal. The Progress is actually a variant of the Soyuz, and both weigh about seven tons. These two space vehicles are used one time only, and were designed in the 1960s. The Progress can deliver 2.7 tons of cargo.

The ATV is a 20 ton vehicle, which could carry 8 tons of cargo. The ATV had its first flight in 2008, and the second one went up in early 2011. A joint Russian/ESA ATV would do the same work as the smaller, and older, Russian Progress vehicle. But the initial ATV was not equipped to return material from space (where it will mainly be used to supply the International Space Station.) A reusable ATV would cost about a billion dollars to design, and one that could carry passengers, a few billion more. So the ATV was abandoned,

In 2011 Boeing was developing a reusable capsule, the 25 ton Orion that could carry up to six personnel, or up to 3.5 tons of cargo (six tons in s special cargo version). The Orion can land, via parachute and airbags, anywhere, and be refurbished for up to ten trips. However, the Orion would not be ready for use until 2015 and before that happened the developer, Boeing, switched a smaller and more efficient design; the Starliner. Actually work on Starliner began in 2010 but it was soon recognized as a superior design to Orion.

The Orion was based on the American Apollo space capsule of the 1960s, which was a contemporary of the Soyuz. In 2011 Orion was seen as the most likely to provide competition, despite there being other efforts under way, including the SpaceX Dragon. The Dragon development was completed faster than anyone expected, with its first flight in 2010 and first actual use in 2012. Dragon weighs 4.2 tons empty and can carry up to six tons of cargo to the ISS and return up to 3.5 tons. Dragon 2 weighs 9.2 tons empty and can carry up to six tons (including seven passengers) to the ISS and return with three tons.

Dragon cost a lot less than what Soyuz in 2011 and once passenger carrying Dragon 2 gets into regular service Soyuz will have a lot less work. In 2011 Russia was building two Soyuz and four Progress capsules a year. For the 4-5 year period when there is no Shuttle or other competition, Russia planned to build four Soyuz and seven Progress capsules a year.

SpaceX Crew Dragon Capsule Launch Experiences Setbacks

However, the SpaceX Demo-2 mission was postponed for October, at the earliest. Right now, SpaceX is thinking of scheduling the demonstration flight …

Recently, Nasa published a blog post that led readers to believe the agency is going through some changes in the leadership department, within the Human Exploration and Operations Directorate, that might have a negative impact on the plans to return astronauts to the International Space Station. This is not the only setback that slows down the schedule of launching SpaceX Crew Dragon.

In the first instance, the demonstration flight meant to simulate the mission will carry astronauts Bob Nehnken and Doug Hurley to the ISS was supposed to take place this summer. However, the SpaceX Demo-2 mission was postponed for October, at the earliest. Right now, SpaceX is thinking of scheduling the demonstration flight no earlier than December. Both SpaceX and NASA believe that a Crew Dragon launch involves a set of preparations that cannot be carried out in a few months, so a 2019 launch seems impossible.

SpaceX Crew Dragon Capsule Launch Experiences Setbacks

Jim Bridenstine, the NASA Administrator, asked the Human Exploration and Operations Directorate to reevaluate the flight schedule once new leadership is established. He said: “It is very likely that these new schedule plans will push the Demo-2 launch target into 2020.” Another element that interferes with the timeline is the in-flight abort test that SpaceX needs to conduct to assure that the Crew Dragon capsule’s abort system is perfectly functional.

That is a crucial step since the original Crew Dragon capsule (C201) got destroyed during an earlier test. After the loss of C201, it was found that the SuperDraco thruster abort system was faulty and it needed to be replaced for all capsules currently in production at SpaceX. The launch date for the in-flight abort test is expected to be announced sometime this month.

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Emmy Skylar started working for Debate Report in 2017. Emmy grew up in a small town in northern Manitoba. But moved to Ontario for university. Before joining Debate Report, Emmy briefly worked as a freelance journalist for CBC News. She covers politics and the economy.

Related

Crew Dragon Exploded Back in April Because of a Nitrogen Tetroxide Leak

On Saturday, April 20th, 2019, an explosion took place on SpaceX’s Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The company was …

On Saturday, April 20th, 2019, an explosion took place on SpaceX’s Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The company was engaged in a series of static fire engine tests for their Crew Dragon‘s In-Flight Abort test vehicle. This vehicle is essential for crewed missions since it acts as a sort of ejection seat for the crew capsule in the event of an emergency.

While the initial tests of the twelve Draco thrusters on the vehicle were completed successfully, the initiation of the final test of eight SuperDraco thrusters resulted in the destruction of the vehicle. After a thorough investigation, SpaceX has concluded that the explosion was caused by a nitrogen tetroxide leak that occurred just prior to the final test.

Following the accident, and in accordance with pre-established safety protocols, the team worked with the US Air Force (USAF) to clear the test area of debris and collect and clean samples for the investigation. They monitored the local winds and other factors to make sure there was no threat to the health and safety of the public.

An instrumented mannequin (Ripley) inside the Crew Dragon spacecraft for the Demo-1 mission. (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX then convened an Accident Investigation Team that included officials from the NASA, and observers from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). Together, they developed a fault tree and began to systematically investigate the probable cause.

Their initial finds indicated that the anomaly occurred approximately 100 milliseconds prior to the ignition of the SuperDraco thrusters and during the pressurization of the vehicle’s propulsion systems. They also determined that a leaking component allowed nitrogen tetroxide (NTO) – a liquid oxidizer – to enter the capsule’s high-pressure helium tubes while it was still undergoing ground processing.

During the rapid initialization of the launch escape system, a slug of NTO was then driven through a helium check valve at high speed, resulting in structural failure within the check valve. To recreate the exact scenario, the accident investigation team used debris collected from the site (which identified where burning took place within the check valve) to conduct a series of tests the SpaceX rocket development facility in McGregor, Texas.

These tests bore out their initial findings and concluded that the failure of a titanium component in a high-pressure NTO environment was sufficient to cause an ignition in the check valve that led to the explosion. This type of reaction was not expected since titanium has been used in rocketry for decades by agencies all around the world.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the company’s Crew Dragon attached, rolls out of the company’s hangar at NASA Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A on Jan. 3, 2019. The rocket will undergo checkouts prior to the liftoff of Demo-1, the inaugural flight of one of the spacecraft designed to take NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station. NASA has worked with SpaceX and Boeing in developing Commercial Crew Program spacecraft to facilitate new human spaceflight systems launching from U.S. soil with the goal of safe, reliable and cost-effective access to low-Earth orbit destinations such as the space station. Image Credit: SpaceX
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the company’s Crew Dragon attached, rolls out of the company’s hangar at NASA Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A on Jan. 3, 2019. Credit: SpaceX

Nevertheless, the static fire test and anomaly provided a wealth of data. In addition, the SuperDraco thrusters were recovered from the test site intact, which is a testament to their reliability. As such, SpaceX fully intends to take the lessons learned here and use them to inform future missions, as well as further improvements in the safety and reliability of its flight vehicles.

Already, SpaceX has taken measures to ensure something like this doesn’t happen again. This includes eliminating any flow path within the launch escape system to ensure that liquid propellant cannot enter the gaseous pressurization system. They’ve also taken to using burnt disks instead of check valves, which remain completely sealed until opened by high pressure – instead of allowing liquid to flow in only one direction.

SpaceX has begun testing and analyzing these mitigation methods with NASA already and indicated that they will be completed well in advance of future flights. The company has also shifted spacecraft assignments forward to remain on track for Commercial Crew Program flights.

These include the second demonstration mission (Demo-2) to the ISS, which will be flown using the Crew Dragon originally intended to fly the first operational mission (Crew-1). It’s also worth noting that SpaceX’s facility at Cape Canaveral was operational in time for the launch of a Falcon Heavy rocket, as part of Space Test Program-2 (STP-2), and the landing of its two first-stage side boosters on June 25th, 2019.

Further Reading: SpaceX

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