For SpaceUpClose.com & RocketSTEM
MERRITT ISLAND NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE, CAPE CANAVERAL, FL – Overnight Wednesday SpaceX technicians rolled out and raised a modified and recycled Falcon 9 rocket this morning, Thursday, Jan. 9 slated for the Crew Dragon In-Flight Abort Test (IFA) at Launch Complex-39A to prepare for a critical static fire engine test in the coming days ahead of a truly monumental upcoming launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida – now postposed to Jan. 18.
The demonstration of the capability of Crew Dragon’s in-flight launch escape system to save astronauts lives in case of a catastrophic rocket failure is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.
The goal of the Commercial Crew Program is to resume human spaceflight launches of NASA astronauts from American soil on American rockets to the International Space Station (ISS) – hopefully sometime by mid-2020.
Enjoy my Space UpClose photos taken mid-day Thursday Jan. 9 from the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and Cape Canaveral Seashore on Florida’s Space Coast – under glaring sun this afternoon from multiple vantage points.
The In-Flight Abort Test (IFA) counts as one of the final major tests for SpaceX to successfully achieve NASA will permit its astronauts will fly aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft.
The Falcon 9 at pad 39A for the IFA test flight is recycled and comprises the first and second stages. The rocket lacks the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule on top to keep it safe inside the hangar during the hold down static fire test.
The static fire test is planned for as soon as later this week in the next few days.
Furthermore, there are no grid fins and landing legs attached to the side of the booster – because it is not expected to survive the survive the severe aerodynamic forces induced by the IFA test after triggering separation of the Crew Dragon.
If all goes well, the hold down static fire test will pave the path towards the next critical milestone – the actual demonstration launch of the In-Flight Abort (IFA) test flight to prove out the emergency escape capabilities of the SuperDraco thrusters.
The In Flight Abort test is a critical test hurdle SpaceX must successfully pass to prove that a Crew Dragon spacecraft will be pulled away safely in a split second in case of a catastrophic failure of the Falcon 9 rocket in flight and save the astronauts lives using the Super Draco abort engines mounted on the side wall of the spaceship Crew Dragon – before NASA will permit its astronauts to be launched.
The IFA will be triggered during the period of maximum aerodynamic pressure.
The in-flight abort test will demonstrate whether the capsule can survive an abort of the Falcon 9 rocket through “one of the harshest moments of launch: max Q, or maximum aerodynamic pressure.”
At about 1 minute into flight SpaceX engineers will intentionally trigger an abort when the Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon reach Max Q.
Earlier this week NASA and SpaceX delayed the IFA launch from NET Jan. 11 to NET Jan. 18 to allow more time for ground processing and to get approval for launch from the Eastern Range – now under the command of the new United States Space Force.
.@SpaceX is targeting no earlier than Saturday, Jan. 18, for an In-Flight Abort Test of the #CrewDragon spacecraft. This is one of the final major tests before @Commercial_Crew astronauts will fly to the @Space_Station aboard the spacecraft: https://t.co/KZbLeLtlPH pic.twitter.com/EC8dNKnPoU
— NASA (@NASA) January 7, 2020
Late last year on Nov. 13, 2019 SpaceX completed a critical and successful static test firing of the Crew Dragon emergency SuperDraco abort thrusters on a ground stand at Cape Canaveral in a confidence building measure.
SpaceX’s plans to launch astronauts on the Crew Dragon were significantly delayed when similar static fire test unexpectedly triggered the explosive destruction of a similar spacecraft seven months ago in April 2019.
The apparently successful ground test firing carried out at SpaceX at Landing Zone-1 (LZ-1) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida indicated an apparently successful resolution to the unexpected issue with a high-flow helium pressurization system valve that caused a catastrophic failure during the previous test firing on April 20, 2019 – due to the high pressure interactive explosion between nitrogen tetroxide and the valve manufactured from titanium.
SpaceX UpClose witnessed the test firing of the Crew Dragon SuperDraco abort thrusters from nearby in Cape Canaveral. Enjoy our photos below.
The SuperDracos are side mounted on the wall of the Crew Dragon spacecraft in four clusters of two.
The Super Draco abort thruster engines that are intended to save the astronauts lives during a launch emergency instead exploded while undergoing static fire ground testing on the LZ-1 test stand at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station – that resulted in an explosion and fire that completely consumed the DM-1 Crew Dragon capsule that flew to the ISS in March 2019 on the Demo-1 mission.
The IFA test will utilize the Crew Dragon tested on Nov. 13 – and designated as Demo-2 since Demo-1 was destroyed.
The key IFA spaceflight test hardware required for SpaceX’s next step to eventually launch NASA astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program had already arrived at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida in early October. Read our earlier story.
After fully analyzing todays test results and determining that the results are satisfactory, NASA and SpaceX set a target launch date for IFA for early 2020.
Two NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will fly aboard the inaugural piloted Crew-1 Crew Dragon whenever it does launch to the ISS.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk recently tweeted that although the spaceflight hardware for Behnken and Hurley would be at the Cape by February 2020- a few more months of reviews were required first before setting a target launch date.
Crew Dragon should be physically ready & at the Cape in Feb, but completing all safety reviews will probably take a few more months
— Buff Mage (@elonmusk) December 30, 2019
The Crew- 1 Dragon replaces the Demo-2 Dragon originally intended for their mission. Demo-2 is being used for IFA in place of Demo-1 Dragon following its destruction last April.
The commercial Crew Dragon vehicle is being developed under a contract awarded to SpaceX by NASA back in 2014 valued at more than $3.1 Billion with the goal of restoring US human spaceflight capabilities in a safe, reliable and cost effective manner and ending our sole reliance on the Russian Soyuz capsule.
That capability to launch humans to space was lost since the forced retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttle fleet in 2011.
Boeing is also developing the Starliner crew capsule under a similar commercial crew contract with NASA.
Both capsules have suffered repeated delays.
And Starliner is also now again delayed after it suffered a significant timing anomaly with the master clock during the recent Dec 2019 launch of the uncrewed OFT mission that sent it significantly off course and expended so much fuel that it prevented a docking to the ISS – a major goal of the test flight.
NASA’s final Soyuz contracted seat is set for launch on Spring 2020.
Thus it is urgent that one of the commercial crew providers launch our astronauts as soon as possible to the ISS in order to maintain a US presence on the station.
Watch Ken’s continuing reports onsite for live reporting of upcoming SpaceX and ULA launches incuding In-Flight Abort, Starlink and Solar Orbiter in Jan/Feb 2020 at the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news: www.kenkremer.com –www.spaceupclose.com – twitter @ken_kremer – email: ken at kenkremer.com
Dr. Kremer is a research scientist and journalist based in the KSC area, active in outreach and interviewed regularly on TV and radio about space topics.
Ken’s photos are for sale and he is available for lectures and outreach events