SpaceX tests eject button on Dragon

2015-05-06 19:35
A SpaceX Dragon mock-up crew capsule and trunk separate after blasting into the air during a test flight in Cape Canaveral, Fla. (Craig Bailey, Florida Today via AP)

A SpaceX Dragon mock-up crew capsule and trunk separate after blasting into the air during a test flight in Cape Canaveral, Fla. (Craig Bailey, Florida Today via AP)

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Miami - SpaceX on Wednesday launched the first flight test of the emergency astronaut escape feature on its Dragon spaceship, which aims to carry astronauts to low-Earth orbit as early as 2017.

No astronauts were on board for the brief launch pad abort test, which blasted off at 09:00 (13:00 GMT) from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

On a cloudy morning, the gum-drop shaped Dragon launched with the help of eight SuperDraco rocket engines built into the white capsule's walls.

Seconds later, the spacecraft jettisoned its trunk.

Held aloft by three parachutes, the Dragon capsule then splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean.

SpaceX said before the launch that the Dragon would fly as high as 1 500m before falling into the Atlantic Ocean about 2.2km away from the launch pad.

The entire flight test was over in less than two minutes.

"This flight test unlike any seen in Florida since the days of Apollo," said Nasa commentator Ron Navias, referring to the US capsules that travelled to the Moon in the 1960s and 1970s.

Eject-capability has been a feature of other space capsules built by Russia, as well as by the US Mercury and Apollo missions, but those systems would only work shortly after launch.

The US-made space shuttles were not designed to have an escape option for astronauts in flight. Seven people on board were killed when the Challenger exploded after launch in 1986 and another seven when the shuttle Columbia disintegrated on re-entry in 2003.

The space shuttle programme was retired in 2011 after three decades. Since then, the world's spacefarers have had to rely on Russia's Soyuz capsules at a price of $71m per seat.

The first manned flight of the Dragon crew capsule is targeted for 2017. Already, a cargo-only version of the space capsule makes regular supply journeys to and from the International Space Station.

Read more on:    space-x  |  nasa  |  iss  |  elon musk  |  us  |  space

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