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If anything goes wrong when a crew of astronauts launches into space, their spacecraft always has a built-in abort system to help them return to Earth safely. But not all abort systems work the same way.
In October of 2018, the Soyuz launch-abort system flawlessly brought two International Space Station-bound crewmembers back to Earth after their rocket malfunctioned. In much the same way, the new commercial crew vehicles built by SpaceX and Boeing are designed to safely separate from their rockets and float back down to Earth in case of an emergency.
Companies - Abort - System - Crew - Vehicle
Neither of these two companies has fully tested the abort system on its new commercial crew vehicle yet. However, both have run into trouble with initial tests of the escape engines that are designed to propel the astronauts to safety. On Saturday (April 20), SpaceX's Crew Dragon suffered a major anomaly during a test fire of the SuperDraco escape engines at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and smoke could be seen from miles away. Last July, Boeing similarly reported an "anomaly" during a test of the company's launch-abort engines, although there were no reports of dramatic explosions or clouds of smoke.
Watching something designed to save lives go up in smoke may not be very reassuring, especially for the astronauts who plan to fly in those spacecraft. But these "anomalies" will ultimately make the spacecraft safer for astronauts, by helping engineers find and solve any problems before they turn life-threatening.
Ways - Launch - Pull - Method - Push
There are two ways that a crewed launch can be aborted: the older, tried-and-tested "pull" method and the newer "push" method. In the older abort mechanism, a small set of rocket boosters is installed on the tip of the crew capsule, giving the rocket's nose a pointy, elongated shape. When the mission is aborted, these downward-facing thrusters "pull"...
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