SpaceX Crew Dragon Capsule Suffers Malfunction, Smoke Seen for Miles

James Marshall
April 24, 2019

A SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft suffered an anomaly during an engine test in Florida Saturday (April 20), company officials said.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 carrying the Crew Dragon spacecraft sits on launch pad 39A prior to the uncrewed test flight to the International Space Station from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, U.S., March 1, 2019.

The in-flight abort test is meant to demonstrate the Crew Dragon's system for rocketing the crew to a safe landing in the event of an emergency experienced in the early stages of flight.

The statement did not specify whether the mishap involved a flight version of the Crew Dragon ferry ship or whether it might have been an engine test article of some sort. SpaceX has been preparing the Crew Dragon capsule for a crewed flight to the ISS, which is now scheduled for sometime in July. Now, the launch of the Dragon 2 spacecraft in July is out of the question. The Crew Dragon vehicle has four thruster pods that each have two Draco thrusters and two SuperDraco thrusters. Such an immediate and energetic explosion points more towards a total failure of propellant lines or valves (or their avionics), while another - and potentially far more concerning - cause could be one of Crew Dragon's pressure vessels. Known as hypergolic propellant, NTO and MMH ignite immediately (and violently so) when mixed.

It's quite possible that the accident investigation to follow will be SpaceX's most hard and trying yet.

It remains unclear which Crew Dragon vehicle was being used in the test; sources suggest it was the spacecraft that flew a successful Demo-1 mission in March, docking with the ISS for five days before splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean. Manager Jim Bridenstine stated that in a tweet that NASA has been informed about the aftereffects of the SpaceX Static Fire Test and the irregularity that happened amid the last test and that this is the reason we test.

Boeing's first unpiloted Starliner flight is tentatively planned for August with the first piloted flight expected late this year.

"NASA is committed to launching USA astronauts aboard domestic spacecraft", the agency said about that deal.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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