How to watch SpaceX blow up a Falcon 9 rocket Sunday

A slight delay to the Falcon 9 fireworks and SpaceX's important, final safety test.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
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SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule will take flight on a Falcon 9 rocket for a launch escape test.


Update, Jan. 19: The SpaceX escape test launch was a success

Plan for success. Prepare for failure. SpaceX is setting out to prove a critical safety system will be able to save astronaut lives in the event of a launch emergency during ascent. This is a required step before  NASA  will allow astronauts to fly to the International Space Station in the SpaceX capsule as part of the Commercial Crew Program.

The Crew Dragon in-flight abort test, originally scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 18, has been rescheduled to Sunday, Jan. 19 due to "sustained winds and rough seas in the recovery area," according to SpaceX.

NASA will livestream the event, with coverage starting at 4:40 a.m. PT on Sunday, but this is subject to change. While SpaceX and NASA are looking at no earlier than 5 a.m. PT for the launch, they have planned a six-hour test window that could see the in-flight abort test occur as late as 11 a.m. PT.

SpaceX, as always, is also offering a livestream

The Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon are currently vertical at the launchpad. SpaceX tweeted a view of the crew-access arm stretching out to the capsule. The access arm is how future astronauts will board Crew Dragon, though this test flight will be uncrewed.

SpaceX and NASA have to watch the weather in the air, but are also worried about the conditions in the Atlantic for the crews recovering the capsule and any debris from the Falcon 9 in the water. It's a matter of the stars aligning before launch. A backup test opportunity is set for Monday if Sunday doesn't work out.

Crew Dragon will take a ride on a Falcon 9 rocket, which won't survive the test. The launch will take place at Florida's Kennedy Space Center, which will allow the rocket to break up over the Atlantic Ocean. It could be quite an eye-opening experience.

SpaceX shared an animated video showing how the test is expected to go.

If all goes well, the Crew Dragon capsule will separate from the rocket, deploy parachutes and float gently down to the water.

A scary Russian Soyuz launch in 2018 highlighted the importance of in-flight escape systems. The Soyuz system worked as designed and a NASA astronaut and Roscosmos cosmonaut returned safely to Earth after a mid-air rocket failure.

SpaceX successfully sent an uncrewed Crew Dragon to the ISS in early 2019. The ultimate goal is to make a return trip with NASA astronauts on board. If the in-flight abort test works out, then the first launch of humans from US soil since the end of the space shuttle era should finally happen in 2020. 

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Originally published Jan. 14. 
Update Jan. 18, 8:04 a.m. PT: Adds more details about the SpaceX being delayed until Sunday.