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SpaceX says ‘picture perfect’ test paves way for human mission

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SpaceX says 'picture perfect' test paves way for human mission

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) – Elon Musk's SpaceX simulated a successful emergency landing on Sunday in a dramatic test of a crucial abortion system in an unmanned astronaut capsule, a major step in his mission to pilot astronauts from NASA for the first time this spring.

A Crew Dragon astronaut capsule was launched at 10:30 am and fell smoothly about 20 miles off the coast of Cape Canaveral, Florida, about eight minutes later, after dropping from a rocket that shut down its engines 12 miles. km) above the ocean to mimic a launch failure.

Crew Dragon stood out from the Falcon 9 rocket at "more than twice the speed of sound," Musk told reporters, 40,000 kilometers above the Atlantic Ocean – roughly twice the altitude of a commercial aircraft.

“It is a perfect image mission. Everything went as smoothly as can be expected, ”said Musk at a news conference.

The administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Jim Bridenstine also described the test as a success.

The first human-on-board mission, which will be the final test mission before NASA's commercial crew program becomes operational, is scheduled for the second quarter of this year, after the probe is completed no later than March, he said. Musk.

In what was an important test before transporting humans, SpaceX also tested the response of its rescuers after diving. They headed for Crew Dragon with the US Air Force 3 emergency rescue teams – a vital part of the test to practice a rescue mission to recover the capsule astronauts.

The Crew Dragon, an acorn-shaped capsule that can accommodate seven astronauts, fired propellants on board to detach themselves from the rocket less than two minutes after takeoff, simulating an emergency cancellation scenario to prove that it can return astronauts to safety . Each stage of the test elicited applause from SpaceX crew members watching the images back to earth.

The test is crucial to qualifying the capsule to transport humans to the International Space Station, something NASA hopes to arrive in mid-2020. After years of development and delays, the United States has tried to revive its human space flight program through private partnerships.

NASA awarded Boeing $ 4.2 billion and SpaceX $ 2.5 billion in 2014 to develop separate capsule systems capable of transporting astronauts to the U.S. ground station for the first time since the space shuttle program. NASA ended in 2011. The space agency has since relied on Russia spacecraft for tours of the space station.

During the test, Crew Dragon used its SuperDraco propellants to move away from the rocket at supersonic speeds of up to 2,400 km / h. The Falcon 9's booster fell back into the ocean, with its first stage crashing into the waves and creating a high cloud of smoke seen on the horizon.

Slide show (6 Images)

The capsule launched four parachutes to slow its descent and loaded two human-shaped test dummies into seats equipped with motion sensors to collect data on the immense g-force – the effect of acceleration on the body – to which astronauts would be during abortion.

The test was originally scheduled for mid-2019, but was postponed after a Crew Dragon capsule exploded in April on a test bench, just before firing its launch, aborting propellants, triggering a lengthy investigation.

The researchers led by SpaceX in July focused on a previously unknown explosive reaction between a titanium valve and a propellant used to ignite the propellants. A SpaceX employee said the company completed the investigation last week.

Reporting by Joey Roulette in Cape Canaveral; Additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; Edition by Frances Kerry and Daniel Wallis

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