SpaceX has completed design testing of its SuperDraco engines, which, as a key element of the Crew Dragon's launch abort system (LAS), would be responsible for carrying a crew of astronauts out of harms way in the event of a launch failure.
Once complete, the Crew Dragon spacecraft will represent one of the cornerstones of NASA's drive to establish a cost effective, independent access to low-Earth orbit (LEO). For it to become human-rated, NASA has set a stringent set of criteria that must be met. One such criteria is the integration of a tried and tested LAS.
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In the pursuit of this goal, SpaceX has decided to buck the trend, opting for an integrated system of four pairs of SuperDraco thrusters built in to the side of the crew capsule. That's a notably different approach to a key competitor in the Commercial Crew Development program – Boeing – which has opted for the traditional "rocket tower" design for the LAS system to protect crew riding aboard its Starliner spacecraft.
In the development of the SuperDraco thrusters, SpaceX embraced advances in the sphere of 3D printing technology. A key element of the rocket, known as the combustion chamber, is fabricated using solely 3D printing, cutting down on cost, waste, and making the production process more flexible in general.
During the recent testing at the company's rocket development facility in Texas, the thrusters were placed on a test stand and fired 27 times, progressing through various thrust cycles. The tests come in the wake of last year's LAS pad test for the Crew Dragon spacecraft, which served as proof that the design was indeed feasible.
Moving forward, SpaceX will continue to evaluate the performance of the thrusters, which it one day hopes to use during the descent phase, as a viable replacement for the current parachute system.
Scroll down for a video of last year's LAS test.