Spaceflight Insider

SuperDraco engines set to be tested during SpaceX in-flight abort

The SuperDraco is an advanced version of the Draco engines used by SpaceX’s Cargo Dragon spacecraft to maneuver in orbit and during re-entry. SuperDracos will be used on Crew Dragon spacecraft as part of the vehicle’s launch escape system; they will also enable propulsive landing on land.

The SuperDraco is an advanced version of the Draco engines used by SpaceX’s Cargo Dragon spacecraft to maneuver in orbit and during re-entry. SuperDracos will be used on Crew Dragon spacecraft as part of the vehicle’s launch escape system; they will also enable propulsive landing on land. Photo Credit: SpaceX

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — With the in-flight Crew Dragon abort test set to launch in less than an hour, let’s take a look into the incredibly powerful and spacecraft specific SuperDraco engine. The Draco thruster rocket engine is used to maneuver the Dragon capsule while in space and upon re-entry to Earths’ atmosphere.  The SuperDraco is a much larger engine, delivering over 100 times the thrust of the Draco and is used to swiftly move the Crew Dragon away from the Falcon 9 stages in case of an anomaly with the rocket.

Draco thrusters are a part of a reaction control system, or RCS, a type of system found on spacecraft which use thrusters for attitude control and translation (translation is a one-to-one correspondence between two sets of point or a mapping from one plane to another). This system often utilizes both combinations of thrusters to achieve different levels or response on the spaceship.

There are 18 Draco thrusters on each Dragon spacecraft. They are situated across four pods, with two pods housing four thrusters and two pods the remaining five. Once the Crew Dragon separates from the rocket ship and reaches its intended orbit, the Draco thrusters enable the craft to continue to its destination, the International Space Station.

Today’s in-flight abort test will evaluate the redundant system of eight SuperDraco engines, which in addition to being a critical standby resource for every launch, would also provide the propulsive thrust for landing the passenger carrying craft during nominal (non-aborted) launches. 

These thrusters use hypergolic propellants, which can be stored non-cryogenically – this allows the engines to be fired on command, months after fueling and launch.

Test mosaic of a SuperDraco pod, which will be used in the Crew Dragon spacecraft as a launch escape system as well as a propulsive landing system. The assembly includes two individual engines. Photo credit: SpaceX

 

 

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