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These photos of SpaceX's Crew Dragon abort launch are just stunning

A close-up of SpaceX's Crew Dragon separating from its Falcon 9 rocket during a successful in-flight abort test launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Jan. 19, 2020.
A close-up of SpaceX's Crew Dragon separating from its Falcon 9 rocket during a successful in-flight abort test launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Jan. 19, 2020.
(Image: © SpaceX)

On Sunday (Jan. 19), SpaceX's Crew Dragon launched on a brilliant a high-altitude test of its launch escape system. 

SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk called the in-flight abort test flight "picture perfect," and, in looking at the stunning images of the test, he was absolutely right. Following a weather delay, Crew Dragon lifted off at 10:30 a.m. EST (1430 GMT) atop a Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. 

With the test, SpaceX successfully (and intentionally) destroyed one of its Falcon 9 rockets to show that, if there were a launch anomaly, the capsule could still safely return to Earth with its crew still aboard and unharmed. The rocket exploded, Crew Dragon's parachutes opened and the craft landed safely back on Earth. And the cherry on top? The photos of the test launch are absolutely amazing. 

More photos: SpaceX's amazing Crew Dragon in-flight abort test launch
Related: 
The Launch Abort Systems of SpaceX and Boeing Explained

An amazing shot of SpaceX's Falcon 9 beginning to take off from Kennedy Space Center.  (Image credit: NASA/Tony Gray)

SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule takes off atop a Falcon 9 rocket on Jan. 19, 2020.  (Image credit: NASA/Tony Gray)

Smoke billows out from under SpaceX's Falcon 9 during its successful launch abort test on Jan. 19, 2020.  (Image credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX's in-flight abort test heats up.  (Image credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule separates from the Falcon 9 rocket, which was intentionally destroyed as part of the in-flight abort test.  (Image credit: SpaceX)

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine (left) and SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk (right) chat before SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket lifts off for the Crew Dragon in-flight abort test on Jan. 19, 2020.  (Image credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett)

With the test mission successfully completed, Musk did not hide his excitement. "I'm super fired up. This is great," he said about the launch. "It's really great."

The successful completion of this in-flight abort test was the last major hurdle that SpaceX had to jump over before they could begin to plan to launch their first crewed mission to the International Space Station. Following this mission, Musk has stated that he aims for the first astronauts to fly to space aboard Crew Dragon to make the inaugural flight this upcoming spring, 2020. 

"We're highly confident that the hardware will be ready in Q1, most likely end of February but no later than March," Musk said, referring to the first quarter of 2020. "And we think it appears probable that the first crewed launch would occur in the second quarter."

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  • forestvillee
    What's the future for this capsule? Refurbishment for another mission, the bone yard?
    Reply
  • pancanman
    Would this jettison escape system have work in a accident similar to Space Shuttle Challenger, where the the explosion occurred while the command vehicle was still attached to booster..ie not jettison first?
    Reply
  • ChrisA
    pancanman said:
    Would this jettison escape system have work in a accident similar to Space Shuttle Challenger, where the the explosion occurred while the command vehicle was still attached to booster..ie not jettison first?

    No. The shuttle was destroyed by aerodynamic force when one booster attachment point failed and caused the shuttle to yaw. The shuttle was not designed for air hitting from the side and broke up.

    When you have an aircraft with a node and wings and tail it MUST be kept pointed "nose to the wind" or the structure fails.

    When you have two solid boosters that are side by side there is nothing to do if one fails. The asymmetric thrust will break up the vehicle.

    Back in the 70s Aerospace Corp. calculated that there would be a 2% failure rate for shuttles. This was the best estimate. NASA did not like the answer and buried the study. But it turned out to be about right. There is no good way to abort a shuttle launch. Only a few minutes of the launch is abortable for most minutes the result is "everyone dies". This is why they retired the shuttle. There was no possible fix and they would just have to cancel it or accept a 2% loss.
    Reply
  • Jer the Catboy
    pancanman said:
    Would this jettison escape system have work in a accident similar to Space Shuttle Challenger, where the the explosion occurred while the command vehicle was still attached to booster..ie not jettison first?

    Challenger didn't explode. It broke up when the SRB separated from the ET, and what you saw was the fuel and oxidizer spreading out into the air. Challenger wasn't destroyed by an explosion. She was torn apart by aerodynamic stresses.

    But in an explosion, the idea is that the SuperDracos have enough thrust to pull the capsule out of the explosion and on its way to deploying parachutes. The capsule will have to ride out the shockwave.
    Reply
  • John
    forestvillee said:
    What's the future for this capsule? Refurbishment for another mission, the bone yard?
    From what I have read, unlike Boeing capsules that are designed to land on terra firma and be reused, SpaceX astronaut capsules land in water and cannot be reused. So, they have to build an entirely new capsule for the next flight. I can't imagine how much that costs and why didn't SpaceX, known for reusability, skip this important point? They certainly have the technology and knowhow to land on land, they do it all the time. I read recently that Musk is talking about trying to capture astronaut capsules using their fast net equipped boats, as they have tried a number of times to grab satellite rocket fairings before they splashdown. Bold idea, but their track record needs improvement with very few captures on record. Sounds to me like an afterthought on Elon's part to preserve a used capsule for future reuse. Personally, why can't SpaceX modify their super Dragon capsule thrusters to ignite for that brief moment before touchdown on land?
    Reply
  • rfcstein
    Just a small typo:
    10:30 am EST is 1530 GMT, not 1430 GMT.
    Reply
  • Martin G
    My father was the launch conductor for Gemini 6 and 7. He went on to be the test manager for the lunar module on Apollo 11 and Apollo 13. So, here’s his summary of the Space X abort- escape test... Great test to prove that the crew capsule can escape and land successfully if All engines shut down in flight. However, since the beginning of the Space Program (Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Apollo/ Soyez, Shuttle) there has never been one incident when all engines just shut down in flight. Even if this was the scenario (for the first time) the test should have reflected a more worst case scenario. Yet, instead, Space X had the capsule jettison away several seconds ahead of a timed shutdown. This artificially gave the crew capsule a thousand plus yards of “head start” with an advanced velocity before the vehicle actually self destructed from aerodynamic forces. A true worst case ( but realistic scenario) would have been to activate the same abort-escape procedure not until the vehicle began to break apart ( therefore, rapidly burning “exploding” ).. So, in conclusion... A great test under simulated conditions that probably would not reflect a realistic situation. Let’s hope we never have to find out if the abort system works under more stressful conditions!
    Reply
  • ChrisA
    John said:
    From what I have read, unlike Boeing capsules that are designed to land on terra firma and be reused, SpaceX astronaut capsules land in water and cannot be reused. So, they have to build an entirely new capsule for the next flight. I can't imagine how much that costs and why didn't SpaceX, known for reusability, skip this important point?

    They did not design for reuse because that would save NASA money but cost SpaceX more. This contract was awarded "fixed price" so anything that removes risk and cost makes more many for SpaceX. The ONLY customer for this is NASA so reuse is not in SpaceX's advantage.
    Reply
  • sarajoanne
    Admin said:
    This past Sunday (Jan. 19), SpaceX's Crew Dragon took off and flew brilliantly through a high-altitude test of its launch escape system.

    These photos of SpaceX's Crew Dragon abort launch are just stunning : Read more
    Reply
  • sarajoanne
    such amazing pictures
    Reply