Weather permitting, as early as 9 a.m. ET this morning, SpaceX will launch a prototype Dragon capsule from a stand at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The capsule features a rocket-fueled escape system built to safely eject astronauts from a spacecraft in the event of a booster failure near liftoff time.
Once launched, the unmanned craft will accelerate upwards as fast as 100 mph in just one second. When the craft reaches approximately 4,500 feet up, the capsule and an attached trunk portion will disengage. Finally, multiple parachutes will then deploy, and the space capsule should theoretically splashdown safely half a mile away.
Sources at CBS confirm the test flight will reportedly take under two minutes. Garrett Reisman of SpaceX told the press: “It doesn’t last long. 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.”
Despite the brevity, this test is significant because it marks the first time the SpaceX company has tested a new system in a launch scenario. Reisman stated: “This is a test flight, so there are a lot of uncertainties. This is the first time we’re ever going to have Dragon fly by itself in the atmosphere.”
SpaceX is currently contracted with NASA (The National Aeronautics and Space Administration) to create a special Dragon cargo ship that can actually be piloted. This would allow the transportation of astronauts both to and from the International Space Station (ISS). The escape system is said to be “a key feature” of the capsule’s design.
Reisman added: “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.” He concluded: “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.”
SpaceX To Test Astronaut ‘Eject Button’