Fiery Blast Spells Success For SpaceX

By  //  February 17, 2012

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BREVARD COUNTY • TITUSVILLE, FLORIDA – SpaceX has successfully test fired SuperDraco, a powerful new engine that will play a critical role in the American company’s efforts to change the future of human spaceflight.

SpaceX is developing the reusable Dragon spacecraft and the Dragon capsule is currently equipped with less-advanced Draco engines, which are designed for maneuvering the spacecraft while in orbit and during reentry.

“SuperDraco engines represent the best of cutting edge technology,” said Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO and Chief Technology Officer.

“These engines will power a revolutionary launch escape system that will make Dragon the safest spacecraft in history and enable it to land propulsively on Earth or another planet with pinpoint accuracy.”

The SuperDraco is an advanced version of the Draco engines currently used by SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft to maneuver on orbit and during reentry.

As part of SpaceX’s state-of-the-art launch escape system, eight SuperDraco engines built into the side walls of the Dragon spacecraft will produce up to 120,000 pounds of axial thrust to carry astronauts to safety should an emergency occur during launch.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program awarded SpaceX $75 million in April of last year to begin work developing the escape system in order to prepare the Dragon spacecraft to carry astronauts.

Now less than nine months later, SpaceX engineers have designed, built and tested the engine.

[sws_blockquote align=”” alignment=”alignleft” cite=”Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO and Chief Technology Officer” quotestyles=”style01″]

“SuperDraco engines represent the best of cutting edge technology.” [/sws_blockquote]

Plans call for eight of the engines to be installed in the outer side walls of the Dragon. Together, these will create 120,000 pounds of axial thrust.

Should something go wrong with the Falcon launch rocket while the spacecraft is lifting off, the SuperDraco engine will fire, allowing the Dragon to separate and safety return to land or water,

New Engines Have Several Advantages

SpaceX officials say the new engines will have several advantages over those used by other spacecraft. For starters, they will remain attached to the Dragon throughout the entire launch, unlike other systems that are jettisoned within a few minutes following lift-off.

They also may be restarted multiple times within one flight and have the ability to deep throttle, which could provide the astronauts with “precise control and enormous power.”

Additionally, like the Dragon and the Falcon, the SuperDraco engines will be reusable with one set good for numerous flights. If one of them fails, the escape system is designed to still work successfully using the remaining seven.

Besides their use in emergencies, the engines may be used to perform precise “propulsive landings” on Earth or other planets by varying the downward thrust of the engines, with astronauts able to gradually lower the Dragon to the ground.


Ground tests of the SuperDraco engine were conducted at the SpaceX Rocket Development Facility in McGregor, Texas earlier this month.tained full-duration, full-thrust firing, and performed multiple demonstrations of deep throttling. (SpaceX image)