SpaceX is set to perform an important test on its Crew Dragon capsule, which will eventually carry astronauts to the International Space Station, following an explosive setback earlier this year.
As reported by CNBC, the company will conduct a “static fire” test on the capsule next week. The test will ensure that when the capsule’s emergency engines fire, everything operates as planned. To perform the test, the capsule will be strapped to the ground while it fires its SuperDraco emergency engines.
The high-thrust SuperDraco engines use what is called hypergolic propellant, which has two components that spontaneously ignite when they come into contact. These engines form part of the launch abort system, an important part of any manned capsule, which provides a way for the crew to separate from the capsule in the event of an emergency during launch.
The upcoming static fire test of the SuperDraco engines will happen on November 2, according to CNBC.
This follows a major issue that occurred in April this year when a Crew Dragon capsule exploded during testing. No one was injured in the explosion, and a subsequent investigation by the company found that the problem was caused by a leaky valve. The valve allowed propellant to leak into the high-pressure helium tubes, and the presence of fuel in a high-pressure system is what led to the explosion. SpaceX announced it planned to fix the issue by replacing all the valves with burst discs, which can relieve pressure from the pressurized system by bursting open but which won’t allow material such as propellant to travel into the system.
Ahead of the testing next week, SpaceX tweeted a video of a preliminary test of the launch abort system in action:
Test of Crew Dragon’s upgraded launch escape system ahead of static fire and in-flight abort tests – altogether we are conducting hundreds of tests to verify the system's advanced capabilities to carry astronauts to safety in the unlikely event of an emergency pic.twitter.com/a4FucMh85l
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) October 24, 2019
The plan is for the Crew Dragon capsule to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station as part of NASA’s commercial crew program. SpaceX is racing to complete its capsule against Boeing, which is working on its own Starliner capsule for the same program.
Not everyone is happy with SpaceX’s progress, however. Recently, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine criticized the company for focusing on its Starship rocket when the commercial crew program, including the Crew Dragon capsule, is “years behind schedule.”
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