SAN DIEGO — Space Exploration Technologies Corp. will perform a pair of crucial launch abort tests beginning later this year for the crewed version of the Dragon space capsule central to the company’s bid to become NASA’s post-shuttle provider of astronaut transportation.
The Hawthorne, California-based company plans to conduct a pad abort test at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, in November, followed by an in-flight abort test from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California in January, Garrett Reisman, SpaceX Dragon Rider program manager, said here Aug. 6 at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Space 2014 conference.
In the pad-abort test, Dragon will be mounted to a mocked-up SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and use its hydrazine-fueled SuperDraco thrusters to boost itself up and away from the pad, as it might need to do in the event of a major problem just before or during liftoff. The in-flight test will attempt to repeat the feat at altitude.
If the schedule, announced Aug. 6, holds, SpaceX will complete the abort tests about a year later than it planned when the company signed its Commercial Crew Integrated Capabilities agreement with NASA in 2012. The pact, now worth $440 million, was one of three NASA awarded under the program’s third major phase. As in all previous phases, NASA’s commercial crew partners are paid for completing negotiated milestones. The two abort tests are worth a combined $60 million to SpaceX.
The fourth and final commercial crew award is now expected in late August or early September. The fixed-price deal, known as Commercial Crew Transportation Capability, will cover development and safety certification of at least one commercially designed system. The deal will also cover the selected providers’ first round-trip astronaut flight to the international space station.
SpaceX is competing against Boeing Space Exploration of Houston and Sierra Nevada Space Systems of Louisville, Colorado, for a Commercial Crew Transportation Capability contract. NASA plans call for launching its first astronauts aboard the winning spacecraft by December 2017.