NASA, SpaceX prepare for Falcon 9 rocket to explode over the Atlantic
To test its Crew Dragon's ability to escape an emergency, SpaceX must make a sacrifice.
Eric MackContributing Editor
Eric Mack has been a CNET contributor since 2011. Eric and his family live 100% energy and water independent on his off-grid compound in the New Mexico desert. Eric uses his passion for writing about energy, renewables, science and climate to bring educational content to life on topics around the solar panel and deregulated energy industries. Eric helps consumers by demystifying solar, battery, renewable energy, energy choice concepts, and also reviews solar installers. Previously, Eric covered space, science, climate change and all things futuristic. His encrypted email for tips is email@example.com.
ExpertiseSolar, solar storage, space, science, climate change, deregulated energy, DIY solar panels, DIY off-grid life projects. CNET's "Living off the Grid" series. https://www.cnet.com/feature/home/energy-and-utilities/living-off-the-grid/Credentials
Finalist for the Nesta Tipping Point prize and a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia.
If you've gotta break a few eggs to make an omelet, perhaps it's no surprise you have to blow up a few space vehicles to get to space. SpaceX and NASA are preparing for the latest trial of the company's Crew Dragon spacecraft, and the in-flight abort test is likely going to lead to the destruction of a Falcon 9 rocket in the process.
Watch this: SpaceX's Crew Dragon launches to the ISS
While much has been made what will happen to Crew Dragon during the test -- it will separate from the Falcon 9, fire its SuperDraco engines to get away from the rocket and parachute to an ocean landing -- there's been less of a focus on the fate of the Falcon 9 rocket that will enable the process.
All the latest tech news delivered to your inbox. It's FREE!
It's likely to undergo what SpaceX fans refer to tongue-in-cheek as a "rapid scheduled disassembly." In other words, it's going to break apart and/or explode over the Atlantic Ocean.
According to the final environmental assessment for the test filed with the Federal Aviation Administration, a Falcon 9 carrying the Crew Dragon will launch from Florida's Kennedy Space Center and fly for about 88 seconds before the test is initiated. Once the Dragon separates from the Falcon 9 first and second stages, the rocket is expected to become uncontrollable and break apart.
The hope is actually that this planned disassembly is also a fiery affair, so that most of the Falcon 9's remaining fuel is consumed in one big explosion in the sky rather than ending up in the ocean. SpaceX does allow for the possibility, which it estimates at less than 1 percent, that the rocket could fall to the ocean intact. In that case, the company said, an even bigger explosion could result from the impact, hopefully consuming all the fuel in the process.
SpaceX said it plans to fish all the floating debris from the explosion out of the water.
When it all goes down, most eyes and cameras will be trained on the Crew Dragon's ability to escape the conflagration and safely land in the water. But the most dramatic part of the test may come with the fate of the Falcon 9.
NASA and SpaceX are both expected to offer a live video stream of the test, currently set for 8 a.m. ET/5 a.m. PT on Jan. 18.