SpaceX is one of two major players in NASA’s Commercial Crew program, an attempt to use third-party space companies to bring crewed space launches back to American soil for the first time since the Space Shuttle era. Just this week, SpaceX blew past a substantial milestone that all but ensures the commercial space company’s participation as a viable launching platform for future NASA astronauts.
After several other demonstrations in recent memory, SpaceX had just one more test it needed to pass to prove to NASA that its Crew Dragon platform was safe enough for astronauts: to establish that it could safely evacuate a failing booster rocket in the event of a critical emergency in mid-air. With that in mind, SpaceX purposely shut off the engines of its Falcon 9 booster in mid-air and allowed it to explode.
In doing so, the Crew Dragon’s safety system detected the issue. In mere seconds, the Crew Dragon ignited its onboard Super Draco engines and jettisoned a safe distance from the Falcon 9 rocket. This ensured that it was far enough away not to be scathed by the rocket booster’s massive mid-air explosion.
Shortly after proving that it could vacate a ‘failing’ booster rocket, the Crew Dragon capsule demonstrated its safe landing capabilities by making a soft touch down in the Atlantic Ocean. The spacecraft used its onboard engines to orient itself just right before making its descent and deploying four parachutes that slowed its fall all the way down.
Now that SpaceX has demonstrated its platform’s reliability, it ought to be interesting to see just how soon NASA will employ the commercial space company to send astronauts to the International Space Station…