(CNN) – After months of anticipation, SpaceX’s new crew-worthy spacecraft, the Crew Dragon, is finally being prepared for its final major test before astronauts can use it to travel to the International Space Station.
NASA announced this week that the test, known as “in-flight cancellation,” will take place from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. on Saturday from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Crew Dragon deliberately knocks itself out of a missile as it flames towards space to simulate how passengers are brought to safety if something goes wrong at launch.
SpaceX, the rocket company of Elon Musk, designed Crew Dragon to fly into space on a two-stage SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The first stage of the Falcon 9 provides the thrust when taking off and the second stage fires its own engine to blow up Crew Dragon at more than 25,000 km / h – fast enough to enter Earth orbit.
But on Saturday the spaceship is dropped just before the first stage of the missile would shut down its engines, up to one and a half minutes after launch. At this point, the missile could be more than 19 km above the ground and travel at 1.5 times the speed of sound.
The spacecraft will use special engines called SuperDracos, which are specifically designed to push the vehicle away from a missile in an emergency. Smaller engines align the Crew Dragon when it falls back through the atmosphere, and two parachutes slow the descent before it splashes down into the Atlantic. A rescue ship will be waiting nearby to bring it to safety.
NASA urged the private sector to develop crew-friendly spacecraft to replace the space shuttle program after it was retired in 2011. SpaceX was allocated $ 2.6 billion, and Boeing received $ 4.2 billion in 2014 flying astronauts until 2017. But the development of both spaceships took years longer than expected. Meanwhile, NASA has paid Russia billions of dollars for its astronauts to board the country’s Soyuz capsules.
Boeing suffered a major setback when its Starliner spacecraft failed during a test flight in December. It is not clear when the vehicle will be ready for crew missions.
But if Crew Dragon’s crash test goes well in flight, the spacecraft could be released to astronauts in a few weeks. It will be NASA’s first manned space mission in almost a decade and the first manned mission for SpaceX in its 18-year history.
Two NASA astronauts were selected as the first passengers by Crew Dragon: Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, both former military test pilots and veterans of space shuttle missions.
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