The test, which will take place at 6 am on Saturday (18), is essential to demonstrate to NASA that Musk is capable of taking astronauts to the International Space Station.
By Carolina Fioratti
17 Jan 2020, 8:49 PM
Next Saturday (18) will be marked by a new SpaceX prank. Together with the Nasa, the company will launch the Falcon 9 rocket with the aim of destroying it. That's right, it will only be a few minutes of flight before the gadget crashes on purpose. There is obviously an explanation.
The idea is to test safety devices for human crew. Musk will attach the Crew Dragon capsule to the rocket, whose function is to transport passengers, but which in this specific case will obviously be empty. If the test is successful, and none of the imaginary passengers die, SpaceX will be one step closer to launching flesh-and-blood astronauts for the International Space Station (ISS) at Falcon 9.
The NASA astronauts who would be assigned to this hypothetical trip are Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley. They would stay on the ISS for two weeks and return. There are no dates for this mission yet, but SpaceX CEO Elon Musk believes that by February we will have this Falcon 9 capable of transporting humans.
Step by step
The test will take place as follows: one and a half minutes after launch, the Crew Dragon will separate from the rocket. Then, the rocket's engines will be shut down so that it falls back to Earth, and the eight capsule thrusters (these engines are called SuperDraco) will be activated.
Thus, the flight of the rocket is aborted while the module with the humans is ejected to a safe distance, to land with the aid of a parachute. It will float safely in the Atlantic Ocean until a team arrives at the scene with a boat equipped to carry out the rescue.
In a real scenario – with crew members – this procedure would be applied as plan B, in case the rocket started to go in the wrong direction, which would not take it to the ISS. Thus, astronauts return to Earth instead of being lost in a lonely corner of space, which is not cool.
See the rescue plan in the video below:
Several tests have already been done to prove the safety of the Crew Dragon capsule ー after all, it has been in development for six years. But they all happened on land. SuperDraco engines, for example, were first tested in April 2019 (and failed, by the way).
The Crew prototype as a whole exploded at that time. Only in November did the glory days come. The thrusters were tested again and everything went well. Or at least we need to root for it, as this is the version that will be used soon.
The existence of an ejectable module for emergency situations was a lesson learned in 1986. This year, NASA launched the space shuttle Challenger, with seven astronauts. Within minutes of takeoff, the spacecraft exploded, and there was no way to escape.
Boeing vs SpaceX
The launch of people by SpaceX would mark the return of manned travel out of American soil, since since 2011 only Russian rockets have been used to access the ISS. Another milestone is the fact that Falcon 9 is a private initiative project, and not 100% public – as was customary during the Cold War.
The mission is part of the Commercial Crew Program, which seeks to encourage the development of manned vessels. But SpaceX is not the only participant.
Its rival is Boeing, which has been developing the CST-100 Starliner capsule. In December, they launched the dita-whose into space for the first time. However, due to a failure, they did not reach the ISS. Anyway, they are closer to the feat than SpaceX.
SpaceX and Boeing are a NASA bet. If the Crew Dragon and the CST-100 Starling prosper, then we will have the first effective means of transportation for astronauts in almost a decade – they will replace the old space shuttles, which have been out of use since 2011.
The launch will take place on Kennedy Space Center, in Cape Canaveral, Florida. It is scheduled for 6:00 am Brasília time, but there is a margin of error that covers the next four hours. The show can be seen by those close to the area ー remembering that the nearest beach will be closed ー or by official SpaceX channel, which will broadcast live.