SpaceX Test Fires SuperDraco Engine for Dragon Launch Escape System

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Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) said Feb. 1 that it has successfully test fired a launch escape system engine that it is developing with NASA’s financial assistance.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Development Program awarded the Hawthorne, Calif.-based company $75 million last year to begin work on an escape system needed to fly astronauts on Dragon, the cargo-carrying space capsule SpaceX is preparing to send to the international space station this year.

The hypergolic engine SpaceX test fired at its Rocket Development Facility in McGregor, Texas, in January is an advanced version of the Draco engines used on Dragon to maneuver on orbit and during reentry. Eight of the so-called SuperDraco engines built into the side walls of Dragon will produce up to 120,000 pounds of axial thrust, according to SpaceX.

SpaceX said the SuperDraco sustained full-duration, full-thrust firing as well as a series of deep throttling demonstrations during the recently concluded test series. Company spokeswoman Kirstin Grantham said the full-duration burn ran for five seconds, the same amount of time the engines would burn during an emergency abort.

Dragon’s next launch, a NASA-funded demonstration mission to the space station, currently is targeted for no earlier than March 20. SpaceX had been shooting for a Feb. 7 launch of Dragon and its Falcon 9 rocket but announced in mid-January that it was postponing the launch in order to perform additional testing.