SuperDraco Engine Test Complete For Dragon Launch Escape System
May 28, 2014

SuperDraco Engine Test Complete For Dragon Launch Escape System

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft may soon get a new upgrade after the company proved its SuperDraco thruster is capable of powering Dragon’s launch escape system and enabling the vehicle to make propulsive terrestrial landings with pinpoint accuracy.

The private space launch company announced the news Tuesday (May 27) that qualification testing is complete. The testing took place over a month at SpaceX’s Rocket Development Facility in McGregor, Texas. The company tested the system under a wide variety of conditions including multiple starts, extended firing durations and extreme off-nominal propellant flow and temperatures.

The SuperDraco is an upgraded version of the Draco engine that is currently utilized on the Dragon spacecraft. It helps maneuver the spacecraft in orbit and during Earth reentry. SpaceX has already proven Dragon’s worth by becoming the first supply craft that can be returned to Earth safely with supplies from the International Space Station. All other predecessors burned up on reentry. However, the Draco engine only helps with reentry and the capsule must still make a parachuted water landing to ensure survivability of the craft and its cargo.

The SuperDraco engine will be used on the crew version of the Dragon spacecraft as part of the vehicle’s launch escape system, and will allow for propulsive terrestrial landing. The SuperDraco produces 16,000 pounds of thrust and can be restarted multiple times if necessary. Also, the engine has the ability to deep throttle, giving astronauts precise control and enormous power.

Interestingly, the engine chamber is manufactured using high-tech 3D printing – direct metal laser sintering (DMLS). The chamber is regeneratively cooled and printed in Inconel, a high-performance super-alloy that offers high strength as well as toughness for increased reliability.

“Through 3D printing, robust and high-performing engine parts can be created at a fraction of the cost and time of traditional manufacturing methods,” said Elon Musk, Chief Designer and CEO of SpaceX. “SpaceX is pushing the boundaries of what additive manufacturing can do in the 21st century, ultimately making our vehicles more efficient, reliable and robust than ever before.”

Eight SuperDraco engines will be built into the side walls of Dragon, allowing for 120,000 pounds of axial thrust to carry astronauts to safety should an emergency occur during launch. Dragon will be able to provide astronauts with the unprecedented ability to escape from danger at any point during the launch, not just in the first few minutes. As well, an escape can be carried out successfully even if one of the eight engines fail.

The first flight demonstration will be part of the upcoming pad abort test under NASA’s Commercial Crew Integrated Capabilities (CCiCap) initiative. This will be the first test of SpaceX’s new launch escape system and is scheduled to take place later this year.