“We tried to design a way to save B1046, but not possible,” CEO Elon Musk tweeted, referring to the rocket by its block number. Instead, he wrote, it will be “destroyed in Dragon fire.”The so-called “in-flight abort test,” whose launch window opens at 8 am Eastern time on Saturday morning, is going to be one hell of a show. It is also one of the last major milestones before SpaceX can start sending astronauts to the ISS. The test is meant to show NASA that in the event of an emergency during launch, SpaceX can jettison astronauts to safety. It will mimic an actual launch to the space station in nearly every way, except no astronauts will be on board.
NASA describes an emergency during launch as an “unlikely event,” but this kind of dramatic escape is more than a hypothetical. In 2018, a Russian Soyuz rocket had to jettison its capsule containing a Russian and American astronaut after one of the rocket’s boosters failed to separate. It was the first time in history an abort system was used during flight with astronauts on board, but it worked perfectly and both astronauts returned safely to Earth.The launch abort process is not a fun one for astronauts. The crew notices an intense and sudden increase in g-forces, from forces that are about 5 times gravity, as experienced during launch, to about 7g. “The first thing I noticed was being shaken fairly violently side to side,” NASA astronaut Nick Hague said, recalling his experience during the 2018 abort . “Then there was an alarm in the capsule and a light. I knew once I saw the light that we had an emergency with the boosters."
The WIRED Guide to commercial space flightSpaceX and Boeing are each vying to be the first commercial company to send NASA astronauts to space later this year, but the road to crewed flight has been plagued with setbacks. Each company has a slightly different certification process with NASA, which means that Boeing only had to demonstrate a launchpad abort test rather than an in-flight abort test. Late last year, Boeing had to prematurely end its uncrewed demo mission to the space station after a timer glitch on the spacecraft.