A mock-up of the manned version of the Dragon capsule

SpaceX outlines safety tests of manned space capsule

SpaceX has laid out plans to test safety features of the currently developed manned version of the Dragon space capsule.

The in-flight abort test plan, that has recently been reviewed, is designed to prove the capsule is capable of carrying astronauts safely even in the case of emergency.

The company, working together with Nasa, has assessed Dragon’s SuperDraco engines, the software that would issue the launch abort command and the interface between the Dragon spacecraft and the Falcon 9 rocket on which the spacecraft will be launched.

"It's critical to have a launch abort system in which Nasa and SpaceX can have confidence," said Phil McAlister, director of Commercial Spaceflight Development at Nasa Headquarters in Washington.

"When you put humans aboard, safety and reliability are paramount and this review and the upcoming tests will help prove their space transportation system is on the right track."

The review took place in the presence of Nasa experts and the Federal Aviation Administration representatives.

"With Nasa’s support, SpaceX continues to implement the necessary modifications to equip Dragon to fly crew," said Garrett Reisman, commercial crew project manager at SpaceX.

"SpaceX and Nasa believe in rigorous flight testing and we are looking forward to putting our SuperDraco launch abort system through these critical tests, starting with the pad abort test in the spring and followed by the in-flight abort test in the summer."

The in-flight abort test, scheduled for the summer 2014, will take place along the coast of Florida. During the test, the Dragon spacecraft will be launched on a standard Falcon 9 rocket and an abort command will be issued approximately 73 seconds into the flight.

At that point, the spacecraft will be flying through the area of maximum dynamic pressure, with the combination of air pressure and speed putting maximal strain on the spacecraft.

The spacecraft will be equipped with about 270 sensors to measure a wide variety of stresses and acceleration effects.

An instrumented mannequin, similar to a crash test dummy, will be seated inside the capsule during the test concluding with the spacecraft’s parachutes deploying before the capsule’s splashdown in the Atlantic.

SpaceX hopes to perform the first flight with human crew aboard the spacecraft in the mid-2015, providing Nasa again with the capability to launch astronauts to space from American soil. Since the Space Shuttle retirement, Russian Soyuz has been the only means to transport astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

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