SpaceX tests new emergency escape system to certify pad 40 at Cape Canaveral for astronaut missions

SpaceX performed a deployment test of its new emergency egress system from the crew access tower at Space Launch Complex 40 on Monday, Feb. 26, 2024. Image: Adam Bernstein/Spaceflight Now

SpaceX is closing in on certifying its launch pad at Space Launch Complex 40 to support astronaut and cargo missions with its second-generation Dragon spacecraft. On Monday, the company performed a test of its new emergency egress system featuring a type of deployable slide.

The red slide flew out of a storage container positioned on the crew access tower and deployed along pre-stationed cables that extend to the ground, safely away from where a Falcon 9 rocket would stand. It differs notably from the slide-wire style baskets featured at Launch Complex 39A.

Bill Gerstenmaier, SpaceX’s vice president of Build and Flight Reliability, alluded to Monday’s test during a teleconference about the forthcoming Crew-8 mission to the International Space Station. He said before they use the new tower to support an astronaut mission, they would like to test it out on one of their Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) flights.

“We would like to do a cargo flight first, if we can, and we think CRS-30 is probably the right time to do that,” Gerstenmaier said. “And the work’s pretty much completed at the pad. Got some stuff to do next week, but we’ll be in good shape for CRS-30.”

That mission is set for sometime in mid-March, though the date is still being shored up. Joel Montalbano, NASA’s ISS Program Manager, said it comes during an incredibly busy year for the Space Station.

“We have 17 ISS missions this year, this calendar year. So, it’s like the coolest game of Tetris to try and manage all this and then you add in the non-ISS missions and try and manage across the different launchpad availability,” Montalbano said.

Adding a human-rated pad for SpaceX would be a boost to both it and NASA. Currently, Launch Complex 39A is the only site that can support the launches of both the Cargo Dragon and Crew Dragon spacecraft.

Workers inside the crew access arm at pad 39A load last-minute items aboard the Crew Dragon on Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2024. Image: Michael Cain/Spaceflight Now.

During a press conference marking the arrival of the Crew-8 astronauts and cosmonaut, mission commander, NASA astronaut Matthew Dominick, remarked about how busy the Cape has become.

“Who would’ve though five or six years ago that the competition for launch or the constraint to launch would be a launch pad?” Dominick said, referring to the recent launch of the IM-1 robotic mission to the Moon. “We delayed our launch a few days because there’s stiff competition to get out there to 39A. It’s not a rocket constraint, it’s a pad constraint.”

Steve Stich is among those looking forward to relieving some of that pressure by allowing pad 40 to share the Dragon load from pad 39A. He said NASA and SpaceX were able to validate some systems during the recent NG-20 launch, which sent Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus spacecraft to the ISS with thousands of pounds of cargo and science supplies onboard.

“A lot of the crew systems that are required at the pad specifically for Dragon were not tested with the Northrop Grumman 20 flight. And then, we’re targeting to have it online by Crew-9 later this year for crew capability,” Stich said. “It’s good to have that redundancy. Something could always happen to the systems at 39A and so, we’re really happy to have that backup pad.”


  1. I’m a bit confused. If the red thing is deployed along a wire cable to the ground, what exactly does it do? How do astronauts get down? How is this different than the baskets that slid along a cable during the Apollo and Shuttle flights? Thanks.

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  3. So, crew 9 will fly from this pad later this year but more specific? I assume Starliner will launch from 41 prior to that. It will be historic in that whichever goes first marks the first crew launched from Cape Canaveral since Apollo 7. Everything since then has been launched from the adjacent Kennedy Space Center. Crew flight returning to the Cape is a landmark in itself.

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