SpaceX Crew Dragon DM-1 on LC-39A with access arm

Crew Dragon In-Flight Abort Test | Falcon 9

Launch Window Opens

(Subject to change)
January 19, 2020 – 15:30 UTC | 10:30 EST
Mission Name
In-Flight Abort Test, an uncrewed demonstration of Crew Dragon’s launch abort capability.
Launch Provider
(What rocket company is launching it?)
SpaceX
Customer
(Who’s paying for this?)
NASA (Commercial Crew Program)
Rocket
Falcon 9 Block 5 (B1046.4 – the first Block 5 booster)
Launch Location
Launch Complex-39A, Kennedy Space Center, Florida
Payload mass
12,055 kg (~25,600 lb)
Where is the spacecraft going?
Nowhere, the capsule will splashdown 34 km downrange in the Atlantic Ocean.
Will they be attempting to recover the first stage?
No, but it will land – in many pieces
Where will the first stage land?
Over a small geographical area
Will they be attempting to recover the fairings?
No, the Crew Dragon spacecraft is not enclosed in a fairing
This will be the:
4th (and final) flight of B1046
79th flight of a Falcon 9 rocket
2nd mission for SpaceX in 2020
– SpaceX’s final flight in their Commercial Crew Transportation Capability contract
Where to watch
SpaceX official livestream

NASA official livestream


Tim Dodd, the Everyday Astronaut, will be streaming at T-30 minutes; come ask questions and join the conversation live!

What’s all this mean?

Following on from their successful DM-1 mission, SpaceX will conduct an uncrewed In-flight Abort (IFA) Test. This will validate Crew Dragon’s ability to pull crew away to safety in the event of a failure during launch.

Mission Profile

At the point of maximum dynamic pressure (max q), the Falcon 9 rocket will terminate thrust, simulating a failure. This will trigger the launch escape system, causing the spacecraft to fire its integrated SuperDraco abort motors and pull itself safely clear of the rocket. After a 10-second burn, the capsule will coast up to its apogee of 40km, detach from the trunk and later, deploy its parachutes, finally splashing down 34 km downrange, in the Atlantic Ocean.

Within an hour, the spacecraft will be recovered from the water and brought back to Port Canaveral by Go Searcher and other members of SpaceX’s east coast fleet. As a result of extreme aerodynamic forces, the Falcon 9 rocket is expected to disintegrate immediately after the abort, which will be performed at approximately T+00:01:24.

The second stage is not required to function for this flight, subsequently, its vacuum optimised Merlin engine has been replaced with a mass simulator as a money-saving measure.

Image by Geoff Barrett

Test stand anomaly

The mission, originally slated for late 2019, was delayed as a consequence of a ‘test stand anomaly’ in April. The anomaly resulted in the spectacular destruction of the capsule, which had been planned for use in the IFA. The destroyed spacecraft had previously flown on DM-1, an uncrewed orbital demonstration of its capability to ferry astronauts to and from the ISS.

The failure occurred during a static fire test of the capsule’s abort motors, when before SuperDraco ignition: A slug of Dinitrogen Tetroxide oxidiser leaked past a helium check valve and into the pressurisation system. During pressurisation, the same slug was propelled through the check valve as a result of a phenomenon known as fluid hammer. This event, coupled with the oxidiser rich environment, was sufficient to set fire to the titanium component and lead to an explosion. A more detailed explanation can be found in Scott Manley’s video.

SpaceX Crew Dragon Parts Trunk radiators solar superdraco abort motors diagram
Crew Dragon constituent parts

Evolution of the capsule

Crew Dragon has undergone many changes since its ostentatious unveiling in 2014. When SpaceX founder and chief engineer, Elon Musk, presented the futuristic spacecraft, it was capable of seating seven astronauts and would land propulsively. However, the complexity of propulsively landing a capsule, and its entailing safety concerns, resulted in certification difficulties, and ultimately, SpaceX pulled the plug on the idea.

Since then, numerous changes have been made. Most notably, due to concerns regarding the g-forces crew might experience, the angle of the seats was changed. As a result of which, the three bottom seats of the original seven-seat configuration were removed, leaving a row of four.

To prevent the recent test stand failure from reoccurring, SpaceX opted to replace the check valves with burst disks. They were hesitant to do so, as burst disks are single-use and subsequently can’t be tested pre-flight. Such a change goes against their company philosophy of testing every possible component to ensure the best chance of flight success.

Furthermore, this mission will fly SpaceX’s new Mk3 parachutes. The new parachutes were developed because the parachute risers were experiencing more load than predicted by models, an issue that has plagued both Boeing and SpaceX. This was rectified with the latest iteration of SpaceX’s parachutes, which were recently drop-tested to gather more data and ensure efficacy.

What’s The Commercial Crew Program?

This will be SpaceX’s last flight in its Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contract, making it an FAA licensed test flight. The contract is a NASA-funded program that aims to launch American astronauts — and eventually, astronauts from other countries — on American rockets from American soil. The last time this happened was in July 2011 on the final Space Shuttle mission, STS-135.  After this, NASA contracted two private-sector companies – SpaceX and Boeing – to developed next-generation spacecraft to transport astronauts to and from the ISS. You can learn more about the Commercial Crew Program on NASA’s website

DM-2

If performed norminally, the first certified crewed flight (DM-2) will occur shortly after, in February. This mission will carry NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken to the ISS. This will put an end to U.S.’s reliance on the Soyuz spacecraft for transporting astronauts to and from the International Space Station, a monopoly enjoyed by Russia since the conclusion of the Space Shuttle program in 2011.

For an in-depth comparison of both SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner CCP spacecraft, check out Everyday Astronaut’s video. Furthermore, if you want to learn more about launch abort systems and why SpaceX and Boeing have ditched abort towers, Everyday Astronaut also has a video covering the topic.

10 comments
  1. Why can’t I find any mention of the schedule for this lanunch in either the NASA press site, SpaceX press site, or Spaceflightnow? Is the test still on or is NASA going to do the first manned flight to the ISS without it?

    1. No, the abort system will be fired when the rocket is at max Q. This is the point during ascent where the maximum amount of dynamic load is being put on the rocket (this is approximately 1000mph). As soon as the capsule fires it’s abort system, the computers on the F9 rocket automatically cut power to the 9 main engines. However, it is quite likely that once the Dragon capsule has gotten away from the Falcon 9, those dynamic forces will cause the rocket to catastrophically break up.

      It’s going to be spectacular no matter what happens!

      1. Hi Tim,
        What if F9 rocket computers will not cut power to all main engines. it is malfunction situation,remember?. So rocket will still accelerate , and 3.5 gi’s of abort system will be not enough to to put capsule away.
        What do you think?

  2. While its true much advancement has been made with rockets. And Space X’s reusable rockets are impressive, however land based launch systems are a truly antiquated approach to a robust sustainable low cost Space Program. With the prevalence of high temperature metal alloys and high performance composite materials, and new system designs, alternate viable approaches are readily available and have already been proven to work. These Alternate launch systems are poised to revolutionize the entire industry and make land based launches go the way of the steam powered locamotive. Instead of singular highly expensive and risky land based launches, alternate launch systems would cost a total of 1.5 to 2 million U.S. Dollars per launch not counting 6,000+ kilo payload. For commercial passenger flights, the cost could initially be as low as $250,000 per flight since these new systems are reusable. Also, instead of a singular launch site, multiple congruent launches could take place at the same time or in a sequence in multiple locations. These alternate systems offer the best features; namely guaranteed protection of the payload, shorter time delays between launches (as in hours or a couple days in delay), less material, fuel, and control costs, and exceedingly higher commercial investment and commercial usage. Not only will the way we launch payloads into space be drastically altered but also how we construct our payloads will change. As ISS has shown, modular payloads can be used and assembled to create a larger Space Craft. With 8 – 6,000 kilo payloads launched in as little as 1 week, then creating a materials factory in micro gravity and in geosynchronous orbit can actually take place in a very short time period thus making space an economically viable option. And when autonomous and robotic systems are integrated the possibilities are endless. Thus the goal that the Space Shuttle was to bring to fruition, which was Space based industrialization, can take place. The only thing that inhibits this change occurring faster is a result of the investments already made in land based launch systems. Those entities who have already created and maintain these sites fear a loss in their investment return, a loss in jobs, and a loss in notoriety. Those in the industry suffer from persistent tunnel vision and are afraid to step outside the boundaries of ground based launch systems. And this view has greatly inhibited innovation since the space program began. As an example instead of fuel based turbine injector systems for rockets, an alternative would be the use of ultra high pressure high voltage electric fuel pumps. High voltage capacitor arrays and solid state batteries could be used to lighten the rocket engine and increase efficiency and power. A typical rocket engine burns at the high end 4-5 minutes to reach optimal delta v, however by reducing engine burn times while still achieving optimal delta v using new launch systems opens the door to space programs focused more on space based systems investment rather than land based launch systems. Land based launch systems bleed a majority of the money invested due to expenditures needed for launch base design, building, and upkeep; costs for land based engine testing and retesting; and operational costs incurred inbetween launches which at the minimum takes several months to years. Another example of how land based launch systems has inhibited innovation is the persistent goal to keep all systems and consumables storage on the rocket and or in the payload itself. The Mars mission capsule with its 5 meter diameter and 20 meter length is encapable of containing everything needed for a manned 500 day roundtrip mission to Mars. Even if travel times are shortened, they still are dependent on a crew being fully functional upon arriving at Mars and landing on Mars. If they are required to create methane fuel for a return flight, then missions could last even longer. Again, the narrow focus of fitting everything and everyone in a rocket payload inhibits viable cost effective alternatives.

    New blood, and new people with a vision toward a future where space travel is affordable to 50% or more of the masses is needed. Trying to improve what is essentially V2 rockets has to change very soon because other countries may embrace the alternate systems first and leave the USA dead last in the Space Race Industry.

  3. Hi. I could not find this page on your new version of Everyday Astronaut, so I prepared to copy it by watching the YouTube Video of the launch. At least I would have a flimsy copy of it.

    Are you reloading the old datasheets on the new version, or should I proceed with my copy paste project of it?

    There is no data from the early SpaceX launches. Do you need those?

    By the way, Tim is always unsure about Falcon 9 types:

    Falcon 9 V1.0 is the first “Block 1” and Merlin 1C engines in Tic Tac Toe engine bay

    Falcon 9 V1.1 is “Block 2” with Merlin 1D in welded octaweb and build with aluminum grid fins and white landing legs

    Falcon 9 V1.2 Full Thrust is “Block 3” with chilled 1.st stage and titanium grid fins

    Falcon 9 V1.2 FT “Block 4” is with both stages chilled and only reflown once

    Falcon 9 B5 is with black legs and longer inter stage divider and a bolted Octaweb with Merlin 1D+ engines

    And with regard to the Starlink confusion. Tell him to call the very first test launch Starlink V0.9 for launch Zero “L0” and the very first two test vehicles delivered with PAZ / Microsat 2a + 2b “Tintin one and two”. Others do.

    That’s all. Greetings from Denmark. Johnny Nielsen.

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