SpaceX's quest to launch NASA astronauts from US soil to the International Space Station is finally getting some good news after a series of delays.
A catastrophic explosion of the Crew Dragon capsule during an April engine test pushed back the company's plans for its first crewed mission. But SpaceX appears to be making progress with a new round of testing.
SpaceX tweeted a video on Thursday that shows a brief but fiery test of Crew Dragon's new and improved launch escape system. We see one set of the capsule's thrusters kick in for a few seconds before the video fades to black.
"Altogether we are conducting hundreds of tests to verify the system's advanced capabilities to carry astronauts to safety in the unlikely event of an emergency," SpaceX tweeted. This thruster test is just a precursor to more intense assessments, including an in-fight abort test that will see if the capsule can successfully separate from a rocket after liftoff.
We saw how important launch escape systems are in late 2018 when a Russian Soyuz launch to the ISS went awry. The crew had to make a dramatic emergency landing. They came through unharmed.
SpaceX's Crew Dragon is part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program, which aims to bring astronaut launches back to US soil for the first time since the space shuttle era.
NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine and SpaceX founder Elon Musk appeared together for a pep rally of sorts earlier in October to show they are on the same page despite the Crew Dragon delays. They both emphasized the importance of safety testing prior to launching actual astronauts in the capsule.
SpaceX successfully docked an uncrewed Crew Dragon to the ISS in March. Bridenstine is hopeful the first human flight could take place in early 2020. The short SpaceX video of the launch escape system test is one small reason to think that timeline might possibly come true.