This is cool: the test firing of SpaceX's SuperDraco engine, which will be used in case of an emergency during launch to propel the Dragon space capsule to safety. Basically, if there's a problem that happens during launch, 8 of these engines will fire, and the capsule will be shot away from the rocket at high speed. Apollo had a system like this, but the Shuttle did not (in fact, being on top of a rocket stack is far safer, and this is one of the reasons; it's easier to get away if needed). SpaceX needs to have this system in place to pass NASA's requirements for human safety during launches.
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the nice thing about the SpaceX design vs the old Apollo and even Orion is with SpaceX the engines for abort are also engines for nominal operations and they push the Dragon away from the Falcon 9 and is more flexible than a Launch Abort Tower (LAS). For your readers Apollo and Orion both use a LAS tower (rocket attached to the top of the capsule to pull it away in an emergency). For Apollo and Orion you lose capability in launch mass because you have to lift the LAS part of the way to orbit before it flies off plus the system is more time critical and complicated sequence.
So the implication is that the shuttle would now not meet NASA's own requirements for human safety?
+Noah Siegel That's an interesting question. They made the launch safety requirements a lot more stringent after Challenger, and they wouldn't have been able to launch the Shuttles if they hadn't passed. So yes, they did pass. I'm just saying being on top of a stack is safer - Columbia made that very clear.
+Philip Plait - That part makes makes total sense. The phrasing of the original statement was just a little surprising. Of course, if the requirements were post-shuttle then there would be no reason to think that the shuttle would meet them. And in fact you would kind of hope that it wouldn't...
If SpaceX wants to provide crews to ISS it has to meet certain requirements, now they can decide to make two models, one the NASA constrained unit and another less stringent unit, but for cost savings I doubt they would.
Shuttle did not have an escape system (besides the CDR/PLT ejection seats on the first few flights) they did have the escape slide and the ability to perform various aborts (flip and burn back to KSC, east coast landing, trans-atlantic landing, abort to orbit, abort once around) plus all the inspections we put in post Columbia to ensure the vehicle is safe for re-entry.
The agency decisions regarding the Shuttle are interesting after both Challenger and Columbia. Both accidents made it clear to NASA that the Shuttle was not as safe to operate as we thought it was. +Noah Siegel has it right; the Shuttle program made reasonable changes to reduce the risks but was usually grandfathered as an existing system from meeting the stringent requirements for future craft.
They could have toned down on the soundtrack a little.
Superdraco isn't just for LAS, it's also an integral part of the totally reusable launch system they are developing, (and in the future will allow all the capsule land at their facility, rather than splash down in the oceans).
Nick S
9 shock cones in the rocket exhaust - that must have been loud.
+Scott Hartman In addition to LAS and propulsive landing, Superdraco has one other interesting potential application: if the axial thrust is the cited 120 klbf with 8 thrusters on the capsule at about a 45 degree angle from the axis of the capsule, the engine has comparable thrust to the Apollo CSM, which suggests some interesting potential for a lunar Dragon once this can be treated as "off-the-shelf." Stick an extra superdraco and some more tanks in the trunk, send it through TLI on a Heavy, and then you can use the trunk engine for LOI and TEI. I don't know if SpaceX is planning on doing this or even considering it, but I'd imagine the possibility sticks out to them as well.
As I sit here at my desk putting together Jet Engine CFD simulations, the images of the engine tests with such beautiful shocks really got my....motor running?
+Rob Davidoff Yes, they are explicitly planning on making it a lander for other planets. As you say it will take a bit of modification, but the engine would work.

The plan they seem to have laid out is: Pass ISS docking test (maybe this month?) -> start ISS resupply missions -> get human rated -> get entire system reusable (since 80-90% of the cost of a launch is the hardware) - > develop develop Falcon Heavy -> send sample return mission to Mars (first modified use of Dragon as lander, no people of course) -> prepare Dragon for landing people on the moon or asteroids.

Which is a lot to do, but if anyone can I'd think SpaceX could do it.
+Scott Hartman I'm not really talking about using Dragon as a lander (because honestly it's really poorly suited to the moon, and I'm not sure how the aero of taking a lander designed for Earth's atmosphere and dumping it into the much-thinner Martian atmosphere would work), but rather usingg the current Dragon, with only one major modification as a crew taxi to lunar orbit not far in the future but within, oh, five or six years. Take a superdraco, weld it to a cluster of tanks with about 5 tons of fuel, stick that package inside a standard or only slightly modified trunk and attatch to a stock Dragon. This could be done relatively easily, and would give Dragon the capability to get into and out of lunar orbit with the minimum of new hardware, cost, and time. I think it's concievable this could be done to put people into lunar orbit well before NASA will even have SLS at the pad.
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