SpaceX, founded in 2002 by its CEO Elon Musk, will destroy a Falcon 9 rocket shortly after launch from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.
The exercise, known as In-Flight Abort Test, is being organised by NASA and SpaceX.
The test will demonstrate the escape capabilities of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft. If it works it will show that the crew system can protect astronauts even in the unlikely event of an emergency during launch.
In-flight abort is the final, major test before astronauts can fly aboard SpaceX‘s Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket to the International Space Station as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program, NASA said in a media release.
The Commercial Crew program is a Donald Trump initiative aimed at developing new US-made spacecraft to launch NASA astronauts from the US once again. For the last six years, SpaceX has been developing a new capsule called the Crew Dragon for the program, designed to fly on top of the company’s Falcon 9 rocket and transport NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station.
As part of the development process, SpaceX has had to do a number of demonstrations to show that its vehicle is both safe and capable of doing the job.
In the test, SpaceX will configure Crew Dragon to intentionally trigger a launch escape prior to 1 minute and 30 seconds into flight to demonstrate Crew Dragon’s capability to safely separate from the Falcon 9 rocket in the unlikely event of an in-flight emergency.
If all goes according to plan, the next flight milestone for SpaceX is to put people on board the Crew Dragon. Two NASA astronauts, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, are expected to be the first passengers in the Crew Dragon, tasked with flying to the ISS for a quick, two-week stay. If that flight goes well, then NASA will eventually certify the Crew Dragon to do routine crewed flights to the ISS and back.
The Falcon 9, which is to be expended, has been to space and back three times before, making this fourth trip its last.
NASA and SpaceX are targeting no earlier than Saturday, 18 January (local time), for the In-Flight Abort Test. The four-hour test window starts at 8 am Eastern Standard Time and it can be watched live on NASA Television and via the NASA website.