In order to make sure astronauts in upcoming manned flights are safe during a launch mishap, SpaceX will deliberably blow up a rocket this weekend.
The private space flight company will blow up a Falcon 9 rocket at Cape Canaveral, Florida Saturday morning.
The aim is to prove that astronauts in SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule would be protected in a launch emergency.
Liftoff for the uncrewed flight test is scheduled for 8 a.m. Eastern time.
Just a minute and a half after launch, the Falcon 9 will kill its engines and the Crew Dragon will fire its SuperDraco engines to separate from the rocket. At this point, the rocket and the capsule will both be traveling around 1,000 miles per hour. After separation, they will continue coasting toward the stratosphere before they begin their return to Earth. The Falcon 9 is expected to get torn to shreds over the Atlantic Ocean during its descent, but the Crew Dragon will gently land in the ocean under parachute.
“We tried to design a way to save B1046, but not possible,” CEO Elon Musk tweeted, referring to the rocket by its block number. Instead, he wrote, it will be “destroyed in Dragon fire.”
The so-called “in-flight abort test” is going to be one hell of a show, and it is one of the last major milestones before SpaceX can start sending astronauts to the ISS. The test is meant to show NASA that in the event of an emergency during launch, SpaceX can jettison astronauts to safety. It will mimic an actual launch to the space station in nearly every way, except no astronauts will be on board.
NASA describes an emergency during launch as an “unlikely event,” but this kind of dramatic escape is more than a hypothetical. In 2018, a Russian Soyuz rocket had to jettison its capsule containing a Russian and American astronaut after one of the rocket’s boosters failed. It was the first time in history an abort system was used during flight with astronauts on board, but it worked perfectly and both astronauts returned safely to Earth.
Although SpaceX’s uncrewed demo mission went off without a hitch, its Crew Dragon capsule exploded during a test, a problem that the company traced to a leaky valve. In December, however, SpaceX completed its tenth consecutive successful parachute test, which is required by NASA before astronauts can fly.