CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida – The rocket launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 In-Flight Abort Test is scheduled to liftoff on Sunday, January 19, 2019, from Space Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
10:41 a.m. update: The mission initially appears to have been flawless.
9:55 a.m. update: Fueling has begun.
The launch window opened at 8 a.m. Eastern Standard Time and closes at 2 p.m. but SpaceX announced Sunday morning that the launch target time was pushed back to 10:30 a.m. EST due to winds in the recovery area.
Launch Weather 40% to 60% ‘GO’
According to the latest forecast from the U.S. Air Force 45th Weather Squadron, there is a 60% chance of favorable weather toward the opening of the window with a 40% chance toward the end of the window.
The primary weather concerns are thick cloud layers and flight through precipitation.
On Sunday, winds will switch southwesterly and weather will deteriorate ahead of a frontal system moving into Central Florida.
The main weather concern will be the extensive clouds associated with this system as it approaches the Kennedy Space Center by the end of the launch window.
SpaceX In-Flight Abort Test
The In-Flight Abort Test will demonstrate the spacecraft’s escape capabilities — showing that the crew system can protect astronauts even in the unlikely event of an emergency during launch.
This is the final, major test before astronauts fly aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket to the International Space Station as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program.
For this test, SpaceX will configure Crew Dragon to intentionally trigger a launch escape prior to 1 min, 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.
Once the launch escape sequence begins, Falcon 9’s first stage Merlin engines will shut down and Crew Dragon’s SuperDraco thrusters will begin their firing sequence.
The launch vehicle and spacecraft will separate, and Crew Dragon’s SuperDracos will burn to completion.
After Crew Dragon’s SuperDracos shutdown, the spacecraft will passively coast to apogee, the highest point in its arc.
Near apogee, Crew Dragon’s trunk will separate and the smaller Draco thrusters will re-orient the spacecraft for reentry and parachute deploy.
At the appropriate conditions, Dragon’s drogue and main parachutes will sequence to provide for a soft landing in the Atlantic Ocean near SpaceX Dragon recovery teams.
Falcon 9 to Blow-Up / Break-Up
Following Crew Dragon’s separation, Falcon 9 is expected to aerodynamically break up offshore over the Atlantic Ocean.
Expected breakup time will vary based upon a number of factors, including day of launch winds and expected minor variations in vehicle attitudes and positions, but could occur shortly after separation or later upon reentry from the upper atmosphere.
In either scenario, a dedicated team of SpaceX Falcon 9 recovery personnel will be staged and ready to begin recovering debris immediately after the breakup.
Practice Crew Dragon Recovery
As part of the Dragon recovery operation, U.S. Air Force Detachment-3 personnel will work with the SpaceX recovery team to observe Crew Dragon and practice their initial approach to the spacecraft in the open ocean, mimicking an actual rescue operation before the SpaceX team recovers Crew Dragon for return to Cape Canaveral.