Last September, SpaceX was awarded a $2.6 billion dollar contract from NASA to build spacecrafts to transport astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) by 2017. SpaceX decided to retool its Dragon cargo craft, which has successfully flown several resupply missions to the ISS, into a crew ship.
On Wednesday, SpaceX tested the “pad abort” system of the Dragon spacecraft, an escape plan that would kick in if there was a launchpad emergency. During the test in Cape Canaveral, Florida, SpaceX had 8 Superdraco rockets propel the Dragon to a peak altitude of 1,500 meters, or nearly a mile into the sky, before the spacecraft released its parachutes and fell into the sea.
The test was engineered to last only 107 seconds in total, with the Dragon splashing into the Atlantic Ocean 1.4 miles away from the launch pad.
The results of the test will allow SpaceX to fine-tune the sequence of the escape plan, demonstrate the ability of the Superdraco rockets to respond to the command center in real time, and gather data on the trajectory of the launch.
No astronauts were aboard the Dragon, but there a dummy pilot was placed inside to collect data on the various forces experienced within the craft.
SpaceX expects to continue further tests of the abort system in the future, including running the emergency escape plan in-flight instead of during the launch.