KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. – Don’t sleep in too late this Saturday or you might miss seeing SpaceX test its Crew Dragon’s abort system designed to protect astronauts should something go wrong when it launches humans later this year.
NASA and SpaceX are targeting 8 a.m. Saturday to test the Crew Dragon’s ability to keep astronauts safe in the event of a Falcon 9 rocket launch failure. For this event, SpaceX will intentionally cause a problem with the rocket to test the system.
SpaceX has until noon Saturday for the launch window.
What to expect: SpaceX will launch the Falcon 9 with the Crew Dragon capsule from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Sometime after liftoff, but before 1 minute 30 seconds into the launch, SpaceX will intentionally trigger a problem with the rocket over the Atlantic Ocean. That event will trigger the Crew Dragon spacecraft to perform a launch escape. The spacecraft will use its SuperDraco thrusters to send the capsule away from the rocket and use parachutes to land in the Atlantic Ocean.
The rocket will likely be destroyed during the test.
Why this is important: This is the final test SpaceX must complete prior to receiving the go-ahead from NASA to begin launching astronauts. SpaceX launched the Crew Dragon -- without astronauts on board -- to the International Space Station last spring and brought it back for a splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean.
NASA selected SpaceX and Boeing to develop spacecraft to carry astronauts to and from the space station. Both private companies have faced delays certifying their spacecraft to fly humans.
Meet the astronauts: If Saturday’s test goes well, humans could launch from the Space Coast for the first time since 2011, when the shuttle program ended. NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins and Victor Glover will be the second pair to launch in Crew Dragon, following astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley. Hopkins and Glover will be at Kennedy Space Center watching the in-flight abort test.
Important details to know
Rocket: Falcon 9
What’s launching: Crew Dragon spacecraft
Launch window: 8 a.m. to noon on Jan. 18
Rocket landing? No.
Spacecraft landing? Yes, splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean.