Categories: world

Emergency Launch Abortion Systems by SpaceX and Boeing Explained

If something goes wrong when a crew of astronauts starts in space, their spacecraft always has a built-in abortion system to help them return to Earth safely. But not all abortion systems work the same way. In October 2018, Soyuz's launch interruption system broke flawlessly two international space-station crew members back to earth after their rocket failed. Similarly, the new commercial crew designs built by SpaceX and Boeing are designed to safely separate from their rockets and float back to earth in the event of an emergency. None of these two companies have finally tested the interrupt system on their new commercial crew engine. However, both have encountered problems with initial tests of the aircraft engines designed to drive the astronauts to safety. On Saturday (April 20) SpaceX's Crew Dragon received a large anomaly during a test fire of the SuperDraco aircraft engines at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and smoke could be seen from miles away. In July, Boeing likewise reported an "anomaly" during a test of the company's interrupt engines, although there were no reports of dramatic explosions or smoke clouds. Looking at something designed to save lives goes up in smoke cannot be very reassuring, especially for astronauts planning to fly in spacecraft. But these "deviations" will ultimately make the spacecraft safer for astronauts, by helping engineers find and solve some problems before they become life-threatening. Related: How dangerous space ship launch interrupts work (Infographic) There are two ways that a manned launch can be interrupted:…

If something goes wrong when a crew of astronauts starts in space, their spacecraft always has a built-in abortion system to help them return to Earth safely. But not all abortion systems work the same way.

In October 2018, Soyuz’s launch interruption system broke flawlessly two international space-station crew members back to earth after their rocket failed. Similarly, the new commercial crew designs built by SpaceX and Boeing are designed to safely separate from their rockets and float back to earth in the event of an emergency.

None of these two companies have finally tested the interrupt system on their new commercial crew engine. However, both have encountered problems with initial tests of the aircraft engines designed to drive the astronauts to safety. On Saturday (April 20) SpaceX’s Crew Dragon received a large anomaly during a test fire of the SuperDraco aircraft engines at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and smoke could be seen from miles away. In July, Boeing likewise reported an “anomaly” during a test of the company’s interrupt engines, although there were no reports of dramatic explosions or smoke clouds.

Looking at something designed to save lives goes up in smoke cannot be very reassuring, especially for astronauts planning to fly in spacecraft. But these “deviations” will ultimately make the spacecraft safer for astronauts, by helping engineers find and solve some problems before they become life-threatening. Related: How dangerous space ship launch interrupts work (Infographic)

There are two ways that a manned launch can be interrupted: the older, proven “pull” method and the newer “push” “method. In the older interruption mechanism, a small set of rocket amplifiers is installed on the tip of the tip cap, which gives the rock nose a pointed, elongated shape. When the mission is interrupted, the downward thrusters “depressed” the canister to safety after it has been separated from the rocket.

First, NASA used this type of flight system with Project Mercury the agency’s first crew program, and the Apollo program that put astronauts on the moon. This is also the type of refugee system on Russia’s rocket capsule combination, which NASA has undertaken to bring astronauts to and from the space station for almost a decade.

Artist’s concept SpaceX’s Dragon capsule puts the launch interrupts the system into action.

(Image: © SpaceX)

The idea of ​​a new type of launch relief system was introduced by Boeing in 201

0, but SpaceX was the first to get that idea realized, with the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft. Instead of installing a refugee on top of the canister, SpaceX has built in the thruster in the canister’s outer walls. Eight SuperDraco engines are embedded in the hull and will “push” the capsule away from the rocket in an emergency.

The SuperDracos were the engines that SpaceX tested when the explosion happened on April 20. In 2015, SpaceX successfully completed the first test flight in the Crew Dragon’s abortion system. The company has not yet received a cause for this latest accident, but it may have been related to a change that was made since the first test.

Boeings CST-100 Starliner uses a similar launch system like that of Crew Dragon, but instead of eight SuperDraco engines, it uses four RS-88 engines built by Aerojet Rocketdyne. Starliner also had problems with their start-up engines during a similar fire test in July 2018 when Boeing reported that engine valves were leaking propellants. There was no dramatic explosion that time, but the first Starliner test flight was delayed later. It is now planned to start in August.

While the two commercial space airlines are rolling with the newer design of a launch flight system, NASA actually holds onto the old “pull” method with the agency’s new Orion crew capsule. NASA will use the spacecraft to launch astronauts to the moon as early as 2024. The Agency plans to test Orion’s interruption system for the second time on June 12. The first test was successfully completed in 2010. NASA has since made improvements to the system design using the data collected by the agency during the first test.

All three vehicles would use parachutes to safely get crews back to earth, but SpaceX’s Crew Dragon could rely on its thrusters as a backup landing capability, Elon Musk tweeted in March. Although SpaceX seemed to be about to hit Boeing with a first manned flight to the International Space Station, SpaceX’s latest accident probably means that Boeing gets there first. SpaceX has yet to say what caused Saturday’s explosion or how it will affect the Crew Dragon scheme. Its first crew test flight, Crew Dragon Demo-2, is technically still scheduled for July 25, but it is likely to change.

Email Hanneke Weitering at [email protected] or follow her @hannekescience . Follow us on Twitter @ Spacedotcom and on Facebook .

Share
Published by
Faela