SpaceX plans to conduct two critical tests of its manned Dragon capsule's emergency abort system, designed to carry astronauts to safety during a launch failure, in the next five months, according to media reports.
The first test will take place in November on the launch pad at Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, while the second will be a January in-flight trial originating from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, Space News reported today (Aug. 7), citing a presentation yesterday by SpaceX's Garrett Reisman at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics' Space 2014 conference in San Diego.
"In the pad-abort test, Dragon will be mounted to a mocked-up SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and use its hydrazine-fueled SuperDraco thrusters to boost itself up and away from the pad, as it might need to do in the event of a major problem just before or during liftoff," Space News' Dan Leone wrote. "The in-flight test will attempt to repeat the feat at altitude."
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NASA is encouraging the development of private American astronaut taxis through its commercial crew program, aiming for such vehicles to fill the void left by the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011. The agency is currently dependent on Russia's Soyuz spacecraft to carry its astronauts to the station and back down to Earth again.
SpaceX is one of three companies to receive funding in the latest round of commercial crew awards. The other two are Boeing, which is developing a capsule called the CST-100, and Sierra Nevada Corp., which is building a space plane known as Dream Chaser.
NASA ultimately plans to choose at least one of these vehicles for operational crew-carrying flights, which are scheduled to begin by late 2017.