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FAA unveils details of the Dragon crew upcoming test

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has published a Draft Environmental Assessment for issuing SpaceX a launch license for an in-flight Dragon 2 Crew spacecraft abort test. 

According to the document, SpaceX is ready to test the crew version of the Dragon spacecraft, Dragon 2. Dragon 1 is now in use for cargo missions to the ISS. Dragon 2 has been developed to carry astronauts and space tourists. Although some launches are government-sponsored, most are organized for commercial customers’ need

To conduct business with commercial organizations, private individuals and state agencies, such as NASA, SpaceX aims to demonstrate the Dragon launch abort system and to facilitate meeting NASA’s human certification plan requirements. The company proposes to conduct the in-flight Dragon abort test for this purpose.

According to plan of the test, it will be conducted at the Kennedy Space Center. The Falcon 9 has been chosen as launch vehicle.

The launch scenario plans abort on the ascent trajectory at the maximum dynamic pressure (known as max q). It dictates the highest thrust and the minimum relative acceleration required between the Falcon 9 and the aborting Dragon. As the in‐flight abort occurs during the first stage portion of the launch trajectory, the second stage of Falcon 9 would be simplified.  

The integration and processing flow of the Dragon and the Falcon 9 would be similar to that of a standard Dragon launch. The Dragon would be integrated vertically with the trunk, and then rotated to horizontal position and mated to the second stage of the Falcon 9 while in the transporter‐erector. The vehicle would then be rolled out to the pad and moved to a vertical position. The test would start with a nominal launch countdown. The Falcon 9 with the Dragon attached would follow a standard ISS trajectory with the exception of launch azimuth to approximately Mach 1. The Falcon 9 would be configured to shut down and terminate thrust, targeting the abort test shutdown condition (simulating a loss of thrust scenario). The Dragon would then autonomously detect and issue an abort command, which would initiate the nominal startup sequence of Dragon’s SuperDraco engine system.  

Concurrently, the Falcon 9 would receive a command from Dragon to terminate thrust on the nine first stage Merlin 1D engines. Dragon would then separate from Falcon 9 at the interface between the trunk and the second stage, with a frangible nut system. Under these conditions, the Falcon 9 vehicle would become uncontrollable and would break apart.  

Dragon would fly until SuperDraco burnout and then coast until reaching apogee, at which point the trunk would be jettisoned. Draco thrusters would be used to reorient the Dragon to entry attitude. Dragon would descend back toward Earth and initiate the drogue parachute deployment sequence at approximately a six-mile altitude and main parachute deployment at approximately a one-mile altitude.  

Dragon recovery operations would be very similar to actions for normal Dragon reentry and recovery, although Dragon recovery during the abort test would occur approximately 9-42 miles from shore, and normal Dragon recovery is approximately 200 miles offshore. The recovery vessel would recover all parachutes deployed by Dragon, as possible, including the two drogue and four main parachutes. The recovery of the drogue parachute assembly would be attempted if the recovery team can get a visual fix on the splashdown location. However, because the drogue parachute assembly is deployed at a high altitude, it is difficult to locate. In addition, because of the size of the assembly and the density of the material, the drogue parachute assembly becomes saturated within approximately one minute of splashing down and begins to sink. This makes recovering the drogue parachute assembly difficult and unlikely.

Photo credit: SpaceX