NASA Partner SpaceX Completes Review of 2014 Commercial Crew Abort Test

The Dragon spacecraft is secured before being transported back to a SpaceX facility. May 31, 2012. (SpaceX)
The Dragon spacecraft is secured before being transported back to a SpaceX facility. May 31, 2012. (SpaceX)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — In preparation for a summer 2014 test, NASA partner Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) recently laid out its plan to demonstrate the Dragon spacecraft’s ability to carry astronauts to safety in the event of an in-flight emergency.

This review of the in-flight abort test plan provided an assessment of the Dragon’s SuperDraco engines, the software that would issue the abort command, and the interface between the Dragon spacecraft and the Falcon 9 rocket on which the spacecraft will be launched.

“It’s critical to have a launch abort system in which NASA and SpaceX can have confidence,” said Phil McAlister, director of Commercial Spaceflight Development at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “When you put humans aboard, safety and reliability are paramount and this review and the upcoming tests will help prove their space transportation system is on the right track.”

Experts from NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration attended the review of the in-flight abort test plan Sept. 17 at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif. Attendees also had the opportunity to view the Dragon test spacecraft, which is being manufactured for an upcoming pad abort test and, potentially, the in-flight abort test.

“With NASA’s support, SpaceX continues to implement the necessary modifications to equip Dragon to fly crew,” said Garrett Reisman, commercial crew project manager at SpaceX. “SpaceX and NASA believe in rigorous flight testing and we are looking forward to putting our SuperDraco launch abort system through these critical tests, starting with the pad abort test in the spring and followed by the in-flight abort test in the summer.”

The in-flight abort test will take place along Florida’s space coast. During the test, a Dragon spacecraft will launch on a standard Falcon 9 rocket and an abort command will be issued approximately 73 seconds into the flight. At that point, the spacecraft will be flying through the area of maximum dynamic pressure, or Max Q, where the combination of air pressure and speed will cause maximal strain on the spacecraft.

Dragon will be outfitted with about 270 special sensors to measure a wide variety of stresses and acceleration effects on the spacecraft. An instrumented mannequin, similar to a crash test dummy, also will be inside. The spacecraft’s parachutes will deploy for a splashdown in the Atlantic, where a ship will be pre-positioned for simulated rescue operations. The test spacecraft will be returned to Port Canaveral by barge so data can be retrieved and incorporated into the system’s design.

SpaceX is one of three companies working under NASA’s Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) initiative to develop spaceflight capabilities that eventually could provide launch services to transport NASA astronauts to the International Space Station from U.S. soil.

This review was the eighth milestone for SpaceX under CCiCap. The company is on track to complete all 15 of its CCiCap milestones by the summer of 2014. All of NASA’s industry partners, including SpaceX, continue to meet their established milestones in developing commercial crew transportation capabilities.

For more information about NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and its aerospace industry partners, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/commercialcrew

SpaceX CCiCAP Milestone Status
Award Period: August 2012 – August 2014
Milestones: 15
Total: $460 Million

No.
DescriptionDateStatusAmount
1.CCiCap Kickoff Meeting. SpaceX will hold a kickoff meeting at the SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, CA, or a nearby facility to review the current state of existing hardware, processes and designs, describe plans for CCiCap program execution during both the base period and the optional period and lay the groundwork for a successful partnership between NASA and SpaceX.August 2012Complete$40
Million
2.Financial and Business Review. SpaceX will hold a financial and business review to accomplish verification of financial ability to meet NASA’s stated goals for the CCiCap program by providing NASA insight into SpaceX finances.August 2012
Complete$20 Million
3.Integrated System Requirements Review (ISRR). SpaceX will hold an integrated System Requirements Review (ISRR) to examine the functional and performance requirements defined for the entire CTS for the Commercial Crew Program design reference mission per section 3.1 of CCT-DRM-1110, as well as to evaluate the interpretation and applicability of each requirement.October 2012Complete$50 Million
4.Ground Systems and Ascent Preliminary Design Review (PDR). SpaceX will hold a Ground Systems and Ascent Preliminary Design Review (PDR) to demonstrate that the overall CTS preliminary design for ground systems and ascent meets all requirements with acceptable risk and within schedule constraints and that it establishes the basis for proceeding with detailed design.December 2012Complete$35 Million
5.Pad Abort Test Review. SpaceX will hold a Pad Abort Test Review to demonstrate the maturity of the pad abort test article design and test concept of operations.March 2013Complete$20 Million
6.Human Certification Plan Review. SpaceX will hold a Human Certification Plan Review to present the Human Certification Plan. This Human Certification Plan Review will cover plans for certification of the design of the spacecraft, launch vehicle, and ground and mission operations systems.May 2013Complete$50 Million
7.On-Orbit and Entry Preliminary Design Review (PDR). SpaceX will hold an On-Orbit and Entry Preliminary Design Review (PDR) to demonstrate that the overall CTS preliminary design for orbit, rendezvous and docking with the ISS, and entry flight regimes meets all requirements with acceptable risk and within schedule constraints and that it establishes the basis for proceeding with detailed design.July 2013Complete$35 Million
8.In-Flight Abort Test Review. SpaceX will hold an In-Flight Abort Test Review to demonstrate the maturity of the in-flight abort test article design and test concept of operations.September 2013Complete$10 Million
TOTAL TO DATE
(OUT OF $460 MILLION):
$260 Million
9.Safety Review. SpaceX will hold a Safety Review at the SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, CA, or a nearby facility to demonstrate that the CTS design is progressing toward meeting the Commercial Crew Program’s safety goals.October 2013Pending$50 Million
10.Flight Review of Upgraded Falcon 9. SpaceX will conduct a review of a launch of the upgraded Falcon 9 launch vehicle demonstrating the operation of enhanced first-stage M1D engines, stage separation systems, enhanced second-stage MVacD engine and mission-critical vehicle telemetry during flight. Demonstration of the upgraded launch vehicle will serve as a risk reduction for the planned inflight abort test.November 2013Pending$0
15.Dragon Parachute Tests. SpaceX will conduct parachute drop tests in order to validate the new parachute design as capable of supporting a pad abort event.November 2013Pending$20 Million
11.Pad Abort Test. SpaceX will conduct a pad abort test of the Dragon spacecraft. The scenario where an abort is initiated while the CTS is still on the pad is a design driver for the launch abort system as it dictates the total impulse and also requires parachute deployment in close proximity to the ground.December 2013Pending$30 Million
12.Dragon Primary Structure Qualification. SpaceX will conduct static structural testing of all Dragon primary structure components to ultimate load factors, as applicable. This series of tests will validate the Dragon structure’s ability to maintain integrity during all driving load cases as well as verify the accuracy of math models used to analyze the Dragon structure. Individual tests will be designed to exercise all credible failure modes and minimum margin areas.January 2014Pending$30 Million
13.Integrated Critical Design Review (CDR). SpaceX will hold an Integrated Critical Design Review (CDR) to demonstrate that the maturity of the CTS design is appropriate to support proceeding with full-scale fabrication, assembly, integration and test.March 2014Pending$40 Million
14.In-Flight Abort Test. SpaceX will conduct an in-flight abort test of the Dragon spacecraft. The in-flight abort test will supplement the pad abort test and complete the corners-of-the-box stress cases. The in-flight abort scenario represents a Dragon abort while under propulsive flight of the launch vehicle during the worst-case dynamic loads on the CTS.April 2014Pending$30 Million
TOTAL:$460 Million