SpaceX puts Dragon passenger spaceship through test run

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SpaceX Puts Dragon Passenger Ship Through Test Run


Fla. May 6 (Reuters) - A Space Exploration Technologies' passenger spaceship made a quick debut test flight on Wednesday, shooting itself off a Florida launch pad to demonstrate a key emergency escape system.

The 20 foot- (6 meter) tall Dragon capsule, a modified version of the spacecraft that flies cargo to the International Space Station, fired up its eight, side-mounted thruster engines at 9 a.m. EDT/1300 GMT to catapult itself nearly one mile (1.6 km) up and over the Atlantic Ocean.

The flight ended less than two minutes later with the capsule's parachute splash-down about 1.4 miles (2.6 km) east of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station launch site.

The purpose of the test was to demonstrate an escape system to carry the capsule to safety in case of a fire or accident during launch. SpaceX plans to refly the capsule later this year aboard a Falcon 9 rocket to test an abort maneuver at supersonic speed and high altitude.

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SpaceX puts Dragon passenger spaceship through test run

The SpaceX Pad Abort Vehicle was manufactured at the company's Hawthorne, California, headquarters before being shipped to Florida for the pad abort test at Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The spacecraft is equipped with four quads each containing two SuperDraco engines for a total of eight thrusters that will be fired during the test to evaluate the capability of the launch abort system.

(Photo via SpaceX)

At Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft is being prepared for a test to simulate an emergency abort from the launch pad at Space Launch Complex 40. The ability to escape from a launch or pad emergency and safely carry the crew out of harm's way is a crucial element for NASA's next generation of crew spacecraft. SpaceX will perform the test under its Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) agreement with NASA, and will use the data gathered during the development flight as it continues on the path to certification.

(Photo via NASA)

Eight SuperDraco engines boost a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft away from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in an emergency pad abort simulation. Each of the eight SuperDraco engine generates 15,000 pounds of thrust and burns about six seconds. The test began at 9 a.m. After the engines shut down, the Dragon spacecraft's trunk, with passive fins for stability, will separate when it reaches peak altitude.

(Photo via NASA)

Eight SuperDraco engines boost a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft away from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in an emergency pad abort simulation. Each of the eight SuperDraco engine generates 15,000 pounds of thrust and burns about six seconds. The test began at 9 a.m. After the engines shut down, the Dragon spacecraft's trunk, with passive fins for stability, will separate when it reaches peak altitude.

(Photo via NASA)

The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft descends into the Atlantic Ocean under a parachute following a simulated emergency at the launch pad. SpaceX is placing the Crew Dragon through a worst-case scenario abort tests in order to reduce risk and refine the design.

(Photo via NASA)

The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft descends into the Atlantic Ocean under a parachute following a simulated emergency at the launch pad. SpaceX is placing the Crew Dragon through a worst-case scenario abort tests in order to reduce risk and refine the design.

(Photo via NASA)

The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft descends into the Atlantic Ocean under a parachute following a simulated emergency at the launch pad. SpaceX is placing the Crew Dragon through a worst-case scenario abort tests in order to reduce risk and refine the design.

(Photo via NASA)

The Canadarm 2 reaches out to capture the SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft and prepare it to be pulled into its port on the International Space Station Friday April 17, 2015. The Canadarm2 robotic arm will maneuver Dragon to its installation position at the Earth-facing port of the Harmony module where it will reside for the next five weeks. (AP Photo/NASA)
FILE - In this March 3, 2013 file photo provided by NASA, the SpaceX Dragon capsule orbits the Earth. SpaceX and Boeing said Monday, Jan. 26, 2015, that they are on track to carry out their first manned test flights to the International Space Station in 2017. NASA expects to save millions of dollars in launch costs, once its commercial crew program starts flying. (AP Photo/NASA)
In this video frame grab provided by NASA, the the International Space Station's robotic arm, lower right, operated by station commander Butch Wilmore, reaches for the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft as the soar more than 260 miles above the Mediterranean Sea on Monday, Jan. 12, 2015. The capsule delivered 5,000 pounds of precious cargo, including much-needed groceries and belated Christmas presents, to the space station's six astronauts. (AP Photo/NASA TV)
In this image from NASA-TV shows the SpaceX Dragon-6 resupply capsule Friday April 17, 2015 as it holds at the grapple point, 10 meters from the International Space Station as they cross over the Asia. (NASA-TV via AP)
FILE - This Tuesday, March 26, 2013 file photo provided by NASA shows the release of the SpaceX Dragon-2 spacecraft from the International Space Station. SpaceX and Boeing said Monday, Jan. 26, 2015, that they are on track to carry out their first manned test flights to the International Space Station in 2017. NASA expects to save millions of dollars in launch costs, once its commercial crew program starts flying. (AP Photo/NASA, File)
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"Essentially, it's kind of like an ejection seat in an airplane. You have the ability to leave the pad sitting in the capsule and the capsule would come off and land," NASA astronaut Eric Boe said during an interview on NASA TV.

"It's one of the things the shuttle didn't have," added Boe, who twice flew as a space shuttle pilot.

NASA retired the shuttles in 2011 and invested in commercial companies' designs for a new generation of space taxis. The U.S. space agency currently is investing $6.8 billion in privately owned SpaceX and Boeing.

NASA hopes to be flying astronauts to and from the International Space Station by December 2017, breaking Russia's monopoly on crew ferry flights. NASA currently pays Russia about $63 million per person to fly aboard Soyuz capsules.

No astronauts were aboard the SpaceX Dragon capsule during Wednesday's test, though an instrumented crash dummy was strapped into a seat in the crew cabin.

Once the capsule is recovered from the ocean, it will be trucked to SpaceX's McGregor, Texas, facility for post-flight analysis and refurbished so it can fly again.

The capsule was outfitted with 270 sensors to collect speed, temperature, pressure and other data needed to make sure it is safe for flying people.

"The test doesn't have to be flawless to us to call it successful," Jon Cowart, a NASA program manager, told reporters before the flight. "No matter what happens, we are going to learn a lot."

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