SpaceX mile-high escape test will feature 'Buster' the dummy

May 1, 2015 byMarcia Dunn
In this May 29, 2014 file photo, The SpaceX Dragon V2 spaceship is unveiled at its headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif. SpaceX is just days away from shooting up a crew capsule to test a launch escape system designed to save astronauts' lives. Buster, the dummy, is already strapped in for Wednesday, May 6, 2015, nearly mile-high ride from Cape Canaveral, Florida. He'll be alone as the capsule is fired from a ground test stand and soars out over the Atlantic, then parachutes down. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

SpaceX is just days away from shooting up a crew capsule to test a launch escape system designed to save astronauts' lives.

Buster, the dummy, is already strapped in for Wednesday's nearly mile-high ride from Cape Canaveral, Florida. He'll be alone as the mock-up capsule is fired from a ground test stand and soars out over the Atlantic, then parachutes down.

SpaceX is working to get astronauts launched from Cape Canaveral again, as is Boeing. NASA hired the two companies to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station to reduce its reliance on Russian rockets.

"It's our first big test on the crew Dragon," SpaceX's Hans Koenigsmann, vice president for mission assurance, told reporters Friday.

The California-based SpaceX is aiming for a manned flight as early as 2017. It's already hauling groceries and other supplies to the space station via Dragon capsules; souped-up crew Dragons will be big enough to carry four or five—and possibly as many as seven—astronauts.

NASA is insisting on a reliable launch abort system for crews—something its space shuttles lacked—in case of an emergency. That's one of the hard lessons learned from the now retired, 30-year shuttle program, said Jon Cowart, a manager in NASA's commercial crew program.

The 1986 Challenger accident occurred during liftoff, the 2003 Columbia disaster during re-entry. There was no way to escape, and each time, seven astronauts died.

NASA's early Mercury and Apollo spacecraft had launch escape systems; the two-man Gemini capsules had ejection seats. The first four space shuttle flights also had ejection seats for the two-man crews, but those seats were removed as the crew numbers grew and the system was declared operational.

The Russian Soyuz spacecraft have long had escape backup in case of a rocket explosion or fire at the pad. The system saved two cosmonauts' lives in 1983.

Wednesday's test is expected to last barely 1½ minutes. "I can hold my breath the entire time probably," Koenigsmann noted.

The eight rocket engines on the Dragon will fire in unison to propel the capsule off the makeshift stand, just as they would fire atop a rocket on the pad or in flight. The stand occupies a launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Called SuperDracos, the engines were made from 3-D printing. It will be the first time that SpaceX fires all eight of them at the same time.

The capsule—rigged with sensors and cameras—is expected to soar more than 4,500 feet (1,370 meters) high and come down 6,000 feet (1,830 meters) offshore, due east. Buster will be subjected to four to 4½ times the force of Earth's gravity.

Koenigsmann said the escape system is designed for use throughout a Dragon's climb to orbit on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, giving astronauts the ability to save themselves all the way up.

"Whatever happens to Falcon 9, you will be able to pull out the astronauts and land them safely on this crew Dragon," he said. "In my opinion, this will make it the safest vehicle that you can possibly fly."

There will be nothing to discard if the escape system is unneeded, which simplifies the operation, according to Koenigsmann.

"It's innovative," Cowart said, "and that's really part of the whole reason we're doing commercial crew."

SpaceX plans an in-flight abort test sometime later this year from California.

Explore further: SpaceX picks up launch pace, sets April 27 commercial launch and May 5 Dragon pad abort test

More information: SpaceX: www.spacex.com/

NASA: www.nasa.gov/exploration/commercial/crew/

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8 comments

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SciTechdude
4 / 5 (1) May 01, 2015
Is that the Mythbuster's dummy?
PhysicsMatter
1 / 5 (5) May 01, 2015
It's high time to stop this ego trip of another insane billionaire. Too much other people's money already thrown down the drain and too many people already died in this senseless endeavor. There is no new "science or even new technology behind all of this but solely bragging rights at billionaire parties and a pickup line at the bar.

So far this whole thing resembles funeral-in-space services which only few eccentrics would concoct in their minds as result of severe case of money induced boredom. Why don't they instead fund some educational or research grants for starving students with triple of their intelligence instead of this love fest of narcissism. It's about time.
marko
5 / 5 (3) May 02, 2015
The real insanity is the billions wasted by governments on their ego tripping. Like building weapons of mass destruction and engaging in ongoing futile wars and global power plays.

All the worlds problems could be solved if government mismanagement and waste were diverted to productive outcomes, and there would still be money left over for pet projects - like the Hubble Telescope and the Mars Rover - all which cost the average taxpayer a tin of beans.

SpaceX has exposed the over-engineering and the over-promising of pork-barreled defence contractors who belong to the club of "too big to fail". The more new entrants attack the established players, the more likely true competiveness will occur in these protected industries, and that means nobody is too big to fail.
Returners
1 / 5 (3) May 02, 2015
All the worlds problems could be solved if government mismanagement and waste were diverted to productive outcomes,


Saith a truly, truly naive fool.

Wars and genocides predate nations as we knwo them, and go all the way back to tribal times. The primary driver of war today is Islam, and the second driver is policing of nuclear arms.
Steve 200mph Cruiz
not rated yet May 02, 2015
Physicsmatter,
What's your problem? It's the free market, people willingly choose to invest in Musks products, they are exciting and no one can deny they are not quality products.
The Teslas get some of the highest satisfaction ratings of any vehicle, and if all you care about is research, Musk does not patent his stuff so any new thing his company creates is free to use by anyone.

Musk just isn't a Mr. Burns cliche and all billionaires talk themselves up so whatever, I'm perfectly happy with him doing what he's doing
phprof
1.3 / 5 (3) May 02, 2015
Fusion. Fusion is the way to go. Let us dump the chemical rockets soon.
Valentiinro
5 / 5 (1) May 02, 2015
Is that the Mythbuster's dummy?

That's what I want to know!
JamesG
5 / 5 (1) May 05, 2015
This is not Buster the dummy. That was debunked in a later article. Buster is currently employed by Mythbusters.

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