A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft onboard is seen at sunset on the launch pad at Launch Complex 39A, ahead of the Demo-1 mission on Saturday, March 2, 2019. NASA
This weekend, SpaceX is planning a dramatic test of its Crew Dragon capsule, in which it will blow up a Falcon 9 rocket to test the capsule’s emergency escape system. The launch will take place from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and you can watch it happen live.
How to watch the launch
Launch coverage will begin Friday morning at 10 a.m. PT, with a pre-test briefing from a representative of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, director of SpaceX’s Crew Mission Management, and the launch weather officer.
The main event will happen in the early hours of the morning of Saturday, January 18th. Beginning at 4:45 a.m. PT, NASA TV will show coverage before the liftoff at 5 a.m. PT. Following the launch, there will be a press conference at 6:30 a.m. PT with NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and representatives of SpaceX and NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.
Meteorologists have predicted a 90% chance of good weather for the launch, so the odds are high that it can go ahead as planned. You can watch the launch and the briefings live on NASA TV, using the video below:
What will happen during the test
The test will simulate what would happen if something went wrong during a manned launch and astronauts had to bail out away from the rocket, but this test will be unmanned.
A Crew Dragon capsule will be attached to a Falcon 9 rocket and will be launched as usual. 90 seconds after liftoff, engineers on the ground will institute an explosion of the rocket. The capsule should be ejected away from the explosion and moved to a safe distance by its thrusters, before deploying parachutes and landing safely in the Atlantic Ocean.
Following the test, SpaceX will collect the capsule to perform checks on it, as well as removing any pieces of debris floating in the ocean.
The significance of this test
As well as being dramatic to watch, the test will be an important step for American spaceflight. One of NASA’s primary aims in recent years has been to find a way to launch American astronauts from American soil, using American rockets. This hasn’t been done since the shuttering of the Space Shuttle program in 2011. In recent years, NASA has used Russian Soyuz rockets launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to send its astronauts to the International Space Station instead.
If this test is successful, NASA will soon be able to use SpaceX’s Drew Dragon for ferrying astronauts to the ISS as part of its commercial crew program. Manned launches could occur as soon as within a few months.