SpaceX has postponed the launch of a major safety test for its Crew Dragon astronaut taxi to Sunday, Jan. 19, due to bad weather around the mission’s Florida launch site.
The private spaceflight company was scheduled to launch the unpiloted Crew Dragon spacecraft on a used Falcon 9 rocket today (Jan. 18) from the historic Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. But bad weather at the launch site, as well as Crew Dragon’s recovery zone at sea, prompted the delay.
“Standing down from today’s in-flight Crew Dragon launch escape test due to sustained winds and rough seas in the recovery area,” SpaceX wrote in a mission update on Twitter. “Now targeting Sunday, January 19, with a six-hour test window opening at 8:00 a.m. EST, 13:00 UTC.”
You can watch the launch live here and on Space.com’s homepage on Sunday, courtesy of SpaceX, beginning at about 7:40 a.m. EST (1240 GMT). You can also watch the launch directly from SpaceX here, or from NASA here. A NASA TV webcast will begin at 7:45 a.m. EST (1245 GMT).
SpaceX had aimed to launch Crew Dragon’s in-flight abort mission to test the spacecraft’s SuperDraco-powered abort system designed to pull the capsule free of its Falcon 9 rocket in the event of a launch emergency. Liftoff was scheduled for 8 a.m. EST during a four-hour launch window, but SpaceX cautioned that bad weather might prompt the company to extend that time frame.
“This test, which does not have NASA astronauts onboard the spacecraft, is intended to demonstrate Crew Dragon’s ability to reliably carry crew to safety in the unlikely event of an emergency on ascent,” SpaceX officials wrote in a statement.
SpaceX will launch an unpiloted Crew Dragon packed with sensors and two “anthropomorphic test devices” — or human-shaped dummies — during the abort system test. In an emergency, the system would use eight of SpaceX’s SuperDraco launch abort engines to pull a Crew Dragon capsule (and its astronaut crew) safely away from a Falcon 9 rocket and make a parachute landing at sea.
A similar system saved NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin when their Soyuz rocket failed during an October 2018 launch.
“The most important thing we do is to make sure the launch escape system works and that we’re getting the crew away from Falcon,” Benji Reed, SpaceX’s director of crew mission management, said in a prelaunch press conference Friday (Jan. 17).
SpaceX faces a tough weather forecast on Sunday for Crew Dragon’s in-flight launch abort test. The chances of bad weather preventing the launch range between 50% and 60%, according to the U.S. Air Force’s 45th Weather Squadron tracking launch weather. That forecast worsens slightly on Monday (Jan. 20), with the chances of bad weather expected to be between 70% and 50%.
SpaceX is one of two companies (Boeing is the other) with multi-billion-dollar contracts to fly NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station. The company launched its first Crew Dragon mission, an unpiloted test flight to the station, in March 2019.
Crew Dragon’s in-flight abort test was delayed when a capsule exploded during a ground-test last April, forcing months of investigation, upgrades and a series of successful static-fire tests to make way for this weekend’s launch.
In 2019, Boeing also launched a pad abort test of its own Starliner spacecraft, as well as an unpiloted test flight to orbit. That orbital flight test, however, did not reach the space station due to a mission clock software error.
Both SpaceX and Boeing aim to launch their first crewed missions later this year.
Editor’s note: Visit Space.com this weekend for complete coverage of SpaceX’s in-flight abort launch.