SpaceX

This Is Really A Different Kind Of Emergency Exit.

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When we travel on airplanes the first thing that has to happen before the plane takes off is the emergency instruction given by one of the flight attendants. It is always a good idea to know what you must do should an emergency arise. Sitting in your seat and screaming is not going to help at all.

Jettison Launch Escape System | Image by airandspace.si.ed

Even our astronauts have emergency procedures should anything go wrong. With space travel the launch is the most critical part of a successful flight. If anything goes wrong with the launch there are specific procedures in place to assure the safety of the crew. It actually started with our Mercury program when there was only one astronaut onboard the space capsule. A solid-fuel rocket was mounted above the capsule on a tower. It is designated as either a Launch Escape System (LES) or Launch Abort System (LAS). Here is how it works. In case of an emergency abort caused by an automatic rocket failure  detection or impending explosion the system would be activated. There is also a manual activation for the crew commander’s use.

Ejection Seat
Martin-Baker Ejection Seat | Photo by alonlive.com

In the modern aircraft the crew are seated in ejection seats like the ones used in military aircraft. Ejection seats are only used at the lower elevations and speeds but not in space. Being able to escape potential disaster is paramount to a successful space program.

Falcon 9 Rocket
SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket | Photo by NASA/Reuters

I highlighted the current “space race” in an earlier article and here is part of the information concerning Elon Musk’s project. In February of this year they launched the test flight for the Falcon Heavy. SpaceX launched their Falcon Heavy rocket Thursday April 11, 2019 on its first commercial mission. According to an article on CNBC.com published on Thursday 4/11/19 and written by Michael Sheetz and titled “SpaceX Launches Falcon Heavy and lands all three rocket boosters for the first time.” The vehicle was built by using three Falcon 9 rockets making a powerful a 27-engine vehicle.

This particular flight was called Arabat 6A because of the satellite they were carrying up to orbit in space. The article quoted Lisa Callahan, Lockheed Vice President who described the satellite as one of “the most advanced communications satellites we’ve ever built. The future looks bright for SpaceX as they have 5 missions already contracted including one Government contract worth $130 million to launch the Air Force Space Command-52 satellite and three commercial missions.

The article quotes Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO, when tweeting about the SpaceX Falcon Heavy Block-5 version. Musk said that it adds ” some risk of failure between 5% and 10%, as “the changes are unproven” even with “many good design improvements.” The upgrade gives a nearly 10% increase in the vehicle’s thrust capabilities.

SpaceX has already been sending cargo up to the International Space Station (ISS) with it’s unmanned vehicle and now is embarking on the next stage of it’s program to actually fly humans to the ISS. The safety of astronauts onboard during the flight is something they have been contemplating for some time. This is where the LES comes back into view. It is the final step in taking humans back into space on this new rocket.

An article in the New York Times written by Kenneth Chang and titled “SpaceX Prepares to Destroy Rocket for NASA in Safety Test” previews the test. “The main objective of this test is to show that we can carry the astronauts safely away ” said Benji Reed, Director of crew mission management for SpaceX, during a news conference Friday {January 17, 2020}. The flight of a Falcon p rocket with a Crew Dragon capsule on top is known as an in-flight abort test. It will not have any astronauts aboard, and will not be like most launches where “we’re really hoping for it not to be exciting” said Kathy Leuders, manager of the commercial crew program for NASA. “I will tell you tomorrow will be an exciting day.” The tomorrow she meant was Saturday January 18 when the test was to take place. The test has to be scrubbed due to adverse weather and sea conditions. It was rescheduled for Sunday January 19th.

A minute and 24 seconds into the flight a simulated engine failure will take place and all 9 of the Falcon 9 engines will be shut off. That will trigger thrusters on the Crew Dragon capsule to fire taking the capsule safely away from the rocket. As a result the rocket will be destroyed due to the blow-back from those thrusters suddenly firing.

“After reaching an altitude of about 25 miles, the Dragon will then drop off the “trunk,” or bottom half of the spacecraft, and small thrusters will push the capsule into the correct vertical orientation before parachutes deploy. It is to splash down just 10 minutes after launch.” SpaceX will be losing a very expensive rocket, but if successful the test will prove the safety of their Launch Escape System and result in human passengers safely transported to the ISS.

Jettison Launch Escape System | Image by airandspace.si.ed

The rescheduled test was set took place Sunday January 19th at 10:30 am and was a complete success. The thrusters successfully pulled the Crew Dragon capsule safely away from the rocket.

Parachutes Deploy To Return Capsule Safely | Photo by SpaceX

The capsule then floated down under the four parachutes.

Rocket Falls Back to Earth | Photo by upi.com

The destroyed rocket then fell safely back to earth.  The next step will probably be a manned test flight before actually sending a crew up to the ISS.

Let me know what you would like me to talk about or explain. You can comment below or email me at: [email protected].