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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

SpaceX Abort Test a Success

As reported by Science Times: Last week, SpaceX performed its pad abort test for its Dragon capsule at Cape Canaveral.  While the test seemed to go off without a hitch, initially there was little word from the company about exactly how it went.  Now, SpaceX has confirmed that while the test itself was a success, there is still plenty of room for improvement to prepare the capsule to fly astronauts too the International Space Station within two years.

For the abort test on Wednesday, the Dragon fired eight SuperDraco engines to see how it would escape from a launch pad emergency.  The engines have been designed to allow astronauts to land the craft powered on land or sea.

Overall, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk was happy with the results of the test.  He said that the test showed the Dragon's ability to carry science payloads to the moon, Mars, the Jovian moon Europa and other places across the solar system.

"When boosted on a Falcon Heavy (rocket), it can pretty much go anywhere. So we're kind of excited about exploring that possibility", affirmed Musk.

Sometime later this year or early next year, SpaceX plans to launch the Falcon Heavy from Kennedy Space Center's pad 39A.  The heavy lift rocket will be the world's most powerful launch vehicle and will generation 4.5 million pounds of thrust at liftoff.  According to Musk, the Dragon has a combination of a heat shield and parachutes and is not only intended to fly astronauts, but also serve as a "generalized science delivery platform."

"So I think it should be quite versatile and useful in a lot of ways for both the science community and for transporting astronauts," he said.

Next month the Air Force is expected to certify SpaceX as eligible to compete for contracts to launch national security satellites as well.  Recently, the SMC has revised the agreement with SpaceX that would streamline the lengthy certification process that was criticized earlier this year.

The updated agreement "allows the flexibility to certify SpaceX when ready, while maintaining our 'laser focus on mission success'," said Lt. Gen. Sam Greaves, SMC commander, in a statement.

"SpaceX welcomes these actions," added Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX president and chief operating officer. "We look forward to completing the certification process and competing for (Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle) missions."

SpaceX has become one of the most recent pioneers in the race for space and continues to pursue its goals of reusable rockets to make spaceflight cheaper and reduce the time between flights.

"As long as we continue to throw away rockets and spacecraft, we will never have true access to space. It will always be incredibly expensive," Musk said.