SpaceX tested its escape system for astronauts on Wednesday by launching an unmanned Dragon crew capsule from Cape Canaveral, FL.
The test flight, with a dummy in the Dragon crew capsule, lasted barely over a minute.
For the test, SpaceX launched the Dragon Capsule from a test stand instead of a rocket. It then flew up and out over the Atlantic with the rocket engines on the capsule providing the thrust. After the rockets completed their firing sequence, red and white parachutes opened lowering the capsule slowly down into the ocean, just offshore.
"This flight test unlike any seen in Florida since the days of Apollo," NASA spokesman Mike Curie, the TV commentator for the test, said after the capsule plopped into the Atlantic. Recovery boats and a barge moved in to retrieve the craft.
The company led by billionaire Elon Musk hopes to begin ferrying U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by 2017, making this test an important step in them achieving that goal. Boeing is also designing its own crew capsule that could also be used, but NASA is requiring that all commercial crew flights be safe and insists on them implementing reliable escape systems.
There was no immediate word from SpaceX on how the test flight went, but it appeared that everything went off without a hitch and functioned as planned.
In the days leading up to the test, SpaceX was quick to point out that there was a possibility of something going wrong. The capsule could have been lost at sea or even smashed down onto the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. A two-mile area was cleared around the test just to be safe.
SpaceX has said that once their escape system has been perfected, it will provide an effective means of escape for astronauts throughout their entire climb to orbit, something than even NASA's early manned spacecrafts could not do.
Early systems on the Mercury and Apollo capsules were only good for just the initial part of liftoff and the same is true for Russia's Soyuz spacecraft. The Gemini capsules and the first four space shuttle flights relied on ejection seats.
The Dragon capsule, once recovered, will be taken to the SpaceX Rocket Development Facility in McGregor, TX, where it will be evaluated and cleaned for another test later this year. The next test by SpaceX, will be an abort test following an actual rocket launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Like this test, it will be unmanned.