If your SpaceX rocket blew up at T-0, here's what you'd see
Monday, May 25, 2015, 1:31 PM - "Uh oh" is the last thing you'd want to hear in your headset at T minus 0 of a rocket launch, but here's a look at what SpaceX astronauts will see after that interjection.
Imagine this scenario: You and your astronaut colleagues are strapped into the seats of SpaceX's new Crew Dragon, and its only moments before liftoff. You've psyched yourself up and you're ready. The countdown reaches zero, the engines ignite, acceleration pushes you down into your seat and suddenly you hear the words "Uh oh..." over your headset.
A moment of dread, to be certain.
However, the above video - SpaceX's latest release from their May 6 "Pad Abort Test" launch - reveals exactly what you'd see in the aftermath of that interjection. Rather than your life flashing before your eyes, this "point-of-view" video shows the dizzying, roller-coaster ride you'd be in for as the capsule blasts away from the booster rocket, jettisons its trunk and deploys its emergency parachutes to take you back down to Earth for a splashdown in the ocean.
If you'd been sitting in the capsule at the moment it blasted off from the launch pad, you'd have experienced at least 4 g's of acceleration (4 times what you normally feel from the pull of Earth's gravity), as the capsule went from 0-160 km/h in 1.2 seconds, and reached a maximum speed of over 550 km/h before gravity dragged it back down to Earth.
As we've seen already, here's what the scenario looked like from the outside:
There was no rocket underneath the capsule in this test simply because it wasn't needed for the simulation.
The launch was performed using the same 8 SuperDracos thrusters that the Crew Dragon will use to make a soft touchdown landing upon its return to Earth in future missions. Propelling the capsule more than a kilometre above the ground, this test simulated how the Dragon would break away from a malfunctioning booster rocket, to carry its crew to safety.
Not the First, but Likely the Best
Although this is, quite possibly, the most sophisticated launch abort system to date, it isn't the first.
Some rockets, such as the Russian Vostok and American Gemini systems, strapped the astronauts into ejection seats, and each individual would parachute down if evacuation was necessary.
Look at some of the other rockets, like the Atlas D and Saturn V systems that launched the Mercury and Apollo missions (respectively). Above the capsule and support module, there is a small tower that looks like a tiny rocket of its own.
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In truth, that's exactly what this is. Normally jettisoned during the launch, once it isn't needed, if there was ever an emergency that required the crew to abort the launch, this small rocket would fire its engines to propel the command module away from the booster rocket.
More Tests Leading to 2017
The hope is that we'll never need to see this Pad Abort system in actual use, but this test is simply one of several before the spacecraft's first scheduled crewed flight, sometime in 2017.
The next test, which could take place sometime later this year, is the In-Flight Abort. Essentially, this will go through the exact same scenario as the Pad Abort, however there will be a Falcon 9 rocket underneath the crew pod, blasting the Dragon high up into the atmosphere. Once the rocket reaches the "transonic" region of the flight - the period when it experiences the greatest drag, just as it's about to break the sound barrier - the Dragon will fire its SuperDraco thrusters to make good its escape.
After that, likely in late 2016, will come at least one orbital test of the system, to ensure a safe crew abort can be made during all periods of the flight.
RELATED VIDEO: This simulated view of SpaceX's Crew Dragon coming in for a landing on Earth may become reality within the next two years!