Tomorrow SpaceX will Blow Up a Falcon 9 Rocket… On Purpose

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Engineers Hope for a Big Boom from the Falcon 9 Rocket During Tomorrow’s Crew Dragon Abort Test.

Well, folks, we’re nearing a critical moment in human spaceflight. Tomorrow morning, SpaceX and NASA will conduct the final major safety test for the Crew Dragon capsule. SpaceX designed Crew Dragon to ferry astronauts to and from the ISS. If the test is successful, the Falcon 9 rocket atop which the capsule rides will explode during the separation, and the capsule will safely jettison away from the explosion unharmed. The idea, of course, is to prove that even in the event of the worst-case—a rocket explosion—the crew inside the capsule will survive unharmed. A successful test tomorrow also bodes well for the chances that Crew Dragon ferries astronauts to the ISS soon!

The launch happens tomorrow morning at Kennedy Space Center, from Launch Complex 39A. Incidentally, that’s the same launchpad that sent Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins to the Moon a half-century go. Crew Dragon will not make it to the Moon, though. First, SpaceX designed it to go to the ISS, not the Moon. Second, they’re going to abort the launch about a minute and a half after liftoff.

Falcon 9 Rocket will Die in “Dragon Fire.”

Once the abort starts, Crew Dragon will fire it’s eight SuperDraco engines at once to separate the capsule from the failing rocket. At that point, the capsule will coast away for a while before returning to Earth under parachutes. The explosion from the SuperDraco engines will be violent enough that engineers expect the Falcon 9 to explode as a result. The question is—will Crew Dragon get away fast enough to remain unscathed. 

Reusability, of course, is a hallmark of the Falcon 9 rocket, so it’s gotta sting SpaceX brass a bit to have to destroy one. In fact, SpaceX founder Elon Musk says they tried to design things differently, but to no avail:

 

Ahh, Elon Musk…

I mean… I know I call him a robber baron a lot, but Musk is definitely my favorite robber baron. He’s got the most eclectic panache, and it doesn’t come off as phony as Branson’s does. I mean, you can tell Branson’s kind of playing this persona he’s created. Musk, on the other hand, definitely seems genuine, and I dig that. Even if I disagree with his stances on a lot of things.

Besides, without Musk, commercial spaceflight wouldn’t be nearly as far ahead as it is. In fact, SpaceX’s revolutionary designs have helped to reduce costs so much that when Crew Dragon finally gets the green light, it’ll cost about half of what we’re currently paying Russia and what we will be paying Boeing to get to the ISS. According to Musk, if Crew Dragon passes tomorrow’s test, it will be a few more months before we’ll see a crewed mission. This is, however, the last major milestone for Crew Dragon before it’s ready to fly.

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Brandon Humphreys

Brandon Humphreys

I'm a wizard. I write stuff and it goes from my head into yours - Magic! Apart from that, I am the Senior Editor for Space Porn, a veteran, a rock guitarist, and a teacher.

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