Published: Sun, December 01, 2019
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

SpaceX suffers capsule anomaly during Florida tests

SpaceX suffers capsule anomaly during Florida tests

A SpaceX capsule created to ferry Nasa astronauts to the International Space Station has suffered a failure during a U.S. engine test that sent a billowing plume of smoke into the air over Cape Canaveral, Florida.

A test version of SpaceX's new astronaut taxi, dubbed the Crew Dragon, suffered some kind of an anomaly during an engine test Saturday (April 20) at the company's facilities at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

In terms of the location of the testing, SpaceX originally planned to build a test stand for Crew Dragon near Landing Zone 1. Although initial tests were completed successfully, "the final test resulted in an anomaly on the test stand", SpaceX said in the statement.

Though it's not clear if that same Dragon was the one used in Saturday's test, and SpaceX hasn't said yet which engine was to blame for the anomaly.

Images from Cape Canaveral show a column of smoke visible from local beaches.

But this explosion during the static test firing of the Crew Dragon capsule may change things.

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The SuperDraco engines power the capsule's launch abort system, which is created to propel astronauts away from the rocket in the case of a catastrophic launch failure. "We will learn, make the necessary adjustments and safely move forward with our Commercial Crew Program", he added. "Our teams are investigating and working closely with our NASA partners".

In a statement, the company said the failure occurred as it was conducting "a series of engine tests".

Other reports, however, suggest that the test article was the Crew Dragon that flew a successful uncrewed mission to the space station and back last month. The Crew Dragon vehicle has four thruster pods that each have two Draco thrusters and two SuperDraco thrusters. Under CCP, Boeing and SpaceX have been tasked with returning America's crewed spaceflight capability by providing crew rotation flights to and from the International Space Station. The first crewed mission was scheduled for July this year. If the issue was serious, it could derail plans to fly astronauts aboard the capsule later this year.

The anomaly apparently took place during testing of the SuperDraco thrusters used as part of the launch abort system for the Crew Dragon spacecraft.

In March, the privately owned SpaceX successfully completed its mission of sending an unmanned capsule to the International Space Station and returned safely to Earth, a mission seen as crucial to NASA's plans to resume human space flight from USA soil.

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