Or more specifically, had a Dragon V2 (uncrewed) been atop the AMOS-6 mission stage that blew up during propellant loading before a test fire would the Dragon abort system been armed and thus been able to abort away, unmanned as it would have been?


1 Answer 1


Now we've had the Crew Dragon In Flight Abort test, this can be answered more definitively. I've not found a stream where it's absolutely crystal clear, but in the NASASpaceFlight coverage, you can hear the countdown net in the background - sometimes being spoken over by Chris G.

A timeline of critical events:

  • ~T-45 minutes, the Crew Access Arm is retracted
  • ~T-40 minutes you can just about hear over the audio net in the background:

On countdown(?) Launch Escape System is armed

So yes, the abort system is armed before prop loading, and after the access arm is out of the way for crew missions.

Original answer:

Since SpaceX are as private as they are, there's probably not going to be any specific public information on when the system is armed until it's included on a launch timeline, or announced during a launch sequence etc. That being said, we do know three things:

  1. Static Fires are designed to test all the details in the run up to, but not including, the launch itself
  2. Musk was asked this question on Twitter, and replied:

This seems instant from a human perspective, but it really a fast fire, not an explosion. Dragon would have been fine.

  1. After the CRS-7 failure, they looked at the fact the Dragon survived the initial breakup, and would make software modifications:

In fact, if the software had initiated the parachute deployment, then the Dragon spacecraft, we believe, would have survived. And for future missions, even for the cargo version of the Dragon spacecraft, we're now including contingency software that, if something were to go wrong with the vehicle, Dragon will always attempt to save itself.

So without explicit SpaceX confirmation, it can only be speculation, but all in all, I think it's safe to assume that any and all contingency systems (including Dragon abort) will be in place through all stages of both the static fire and launch, and the Dragon V2 would have a good chance of surviving an incident like this in the future.

Not particularly scientific, but there are also numerous videos of last year's pad abort test overlaid on top of the Sept 1st failure, such as this one, indicating that if the trigger for the abort is fast enough, the Dragon should easily outrun the explosion.

  • $\begingroup$ I was pretty confident the Dragon would survive, IF the system was armed. Thanks for the Musk tweet, that helps. $\endgroup$
    – geoffc
    Commented Sep 2, 2016 at 15:32
  • $\begingroup$ @geoffc Yeah - and whether the system is armed or not is something we're not likely to know about until someone specifically says so, but I think all the evidence points towards it being the case $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 2, 2016 at 15:37

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