Cape Canaveral, Florida – Elon Musk’s SpaceX simulated a dramatic emergency landing on Sunday to test a key abort system on an unmanned astronaut capsule, the company’s final milestone test before flying NASA astronauts from US soil.
A Crew Dragon astronaut capsule carrying two test dummies splashed down about 19 miles (32 km) off the coast of Cape Canaveral in Florida after ejecting itself from a rocket that cut off its engines 12 miles (19 km) above the ocean to mimic a launch failure.
Moments before the launch, Musk wrote on Twitter that it was a risky mission that was “pushing the envelope in so many ways”.
The Crew Dragon capsule, an acorn-shaped pod that can seat seven astronauts, fired thrusters to detach itself from a Falcon 9 rocket less than two minutes after liftoff, simulating an emergency abort scenario to prove it can return astronauts to safety. Each stage of the test prompted loud cheers from SpaceX crew members watching the footage from back on land.
The test is crucial to qualify the capsule to fly humans to the International Space Station, something the National Aeronautics and Space Administration expects to come as soon as mid-2020. It follows years of development and delays as the United States has sought to revive its human spaceflight program through private partnerships.