A SpaceX commercial crew capsule suffered a dramatic "Super Draco" abortion engine test failure at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Saturday, sending billowing clouds of reddish-orange smoke into the sky and out to sea. No injuries were reported.
In a brief two-paragraph statement, SpaceX said the company engineers were carrying out a series of engine tests on the "Crew Dragon test vehicle" at Landing Zone 1 at the Air Force station when the incident occurred.
"The initial tests have been completed successfully but the final test resulted in an anomaly on the test stand," the company said. "
The" The Ensuring that our systems meet rigorous safety standards and detect anomalies like this before it's flight is the main reasons why we test. "Our teams are investigating and working closely with our NASA partners. The company did not say whether the "anomaly" was to an explosion or not, but the aftermath was visible for miles along the area roads and beaches, a plume or reddish smoke that drifted away to the east over the Atlantic Ocean.
The incident , first reported by Florida Today, could have a major impact on NASA and SpaceX plans to launch an astronaut to the International Space Station aboard the Crew Dragon capsule later this year. The long awaited flight will mark the first U.S. Launch of American astronauts aboard a U.S. The spacecraft since the space shuttle was retired in 2011.
To help pave the way for that milestone, SpaceX launched an unpiloted Crew Dragon on March 2 that carried out a successful test flight to the space station and a safe return to Earth. The mission was known as Demo 1 or DM-1.
The Demo 1 capsule was slated to fly again in the early summer timeframe for an in-flight abort test, firing up its Super Draco engines shortly after launch at Falcon 9 Rocket to demonstrate their ability to pull a crew capsule away from a malfunctioning booster.
Following the abort test, SpaceX was expected to be ready for the second Crew Dragon for blastoff on a flight known as Demo 2 to carry astronaut Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley
SpaceX did not identify the Crew Dragon involved in the mishap Saturday, but it was believed to be the Demo 1 capsule undergoing fire test of its Draco maneuvering thrusters and the more powerful Super Draco abort engines.
In any case, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine confirmed the anomaly occurred during the Super Draco test.
"The NASA and SpaceX teams are assessing the anomaly that occurred today. during a part of the Dragon Super Draco Static Fire Test at SpaceX Landing Zone 1 in Florida, "he said. "This is why we test. We will learn, make the necessary adjustments and safely move forward with our Commercial Crew Program."
NASA has been notified about the results of the @SpaceX Static Fire Test and the anomaly that occurred during the final test. We will work closely to ensure that we safely move forward with our Commercial Crew Program. pic.twitter.com/yE2J5yGzA7
– Jim Bridenstine (@JimBridenstine) April 21, 2019
The Florida Today newspaper tweeted a photo showing a billowing red cloud, suggestive of the toxic hypergolic propellant used in the draco engines, rising above the air force station as beachgoers looked on. A late tweet cited "unconfirmed reports" the capsule, whichever one it might have been, was "all but destroyed."
If the Demo 1 Crew Dragon was, in fact, destroyed or seriously damaged – and neither NASA nor SpaceX provided by any such confirmation – the first pilot mission could face a significant delay pending corrective actions and work to prepare another spacecraft for in-flight abort test originally scheduled for the Demo 1.
SpaceX and Boeing both build the kapsules to to carry the astronauts to and from the International Space Station under commercial contracts with NASA, which are aimed at ending the agency's sole reliance on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to ferry US and partner astronaut to the low-Earth orbit.
NASA has awarded Boeing's multiple contracts totaling $ 4.82 billion to develop a commercial crew ship now known as the CST-100 Starliner, a capsule that will launch from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station atop United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket.
SpaceX also won a series of contracts totaling some $ 3.1 billion to date to develop a pilot version of the company's Dragon cargo ship – the Crew Dragon – which will launch at Falcon 9 rockets. The company holds a separate cargo contract valued at $ 3.04 billion for 20 space station resupply flights and another contract for an unspecified amount for at least six additional flights through 2024.
SpaceX has successfully launched a Crew Dragon capsule on an unpiloted test flight March 2 The first pilot flight, with the first pilot flight, with the first one, is intended to prove that the spacecraft can escape from a malfunctioning booster before the crew can be cleared to launch.
The first pilot flight, with Behnken and Hurley on board, is currently targeted for late July. But even before Saturday's anomaly, the agency insiders said that the flight was probably heading for the September-October timeframe.
The first unmanned Starliner flight was tentatively planned for August with the first pilot flight expected this year.
Once operational, the Crew Dragon and CST -100 Starliner will carry supplies and four astronauts at a time to the space station and both will approach the lab directly ahead or above, docking at the recently modified ports of the complex's front end. The Starliner will return to the touchdown in the western United States while Crew Dragon splashes down the Atlantic Ocean to the east of Cape Canaveral.