SpaceX Crew Capsule Fire During Florida Testing Is Major Setback

SpaceX Crew Capsule Fire During Florida Testing Is Major Setback

The firm was attempting a static-fire test of the abort system on its new capsule when it suffered an undisclosed "anomaly" that sent plumes of dark orange smoke billowing into the air all around Florida's Cape Canaveral launch site. The accident was first reported by Florida Today, when photographer Craig Bailey captured the smoke rising over Cocoa Beach. The accident was big enough to show up on radar. Its astronauts have not launched from Cape Canaveral since the last shuttle flight in 2011.

The "anomaly" experienced by SpaceX's Crew Dragon over the weekend won't affect the company's planned space station resupply mission. The same Crew Dragon capsule completed a flawless flight to the International Space Station in March. The company said the test area was clear and no one was injured. "Our teams are investigating and working closely with our NASA partners", declared SpaceX in a statement.

"Initial data reviews indicate the anomaly occurred during the SuperDraco static fire test; additional review will be required to determine the probable cause", the SpaceX spokesperson said.

An explosion that may have destroyed a test version SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft during an engine test on Saturday (April 20) could push back NASA's plans to begin launching astronauts from USA soil this summer. SuperDracos are directly attached to the crew capsule, and the large Falcon rockets that would actually launch the spacecraft into orbit were not in use. SpaceX was testing the Dragon's abort thrusters when Saturday's accident occurred. Ensuring that our systems meet rigorous safety standards and detecting anomalies like this before a flight is the main reasons why we test.

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The company was on track to perform an in-flight abort test of the same capsule that flew to space in the coming months, proving to NASA that it could jettison the vehicle away from the rocket in the case of an issue during the harshest moment of its ascent. Another Dragon capsule was going to make the first flight with a crew on board as early as July.

What makes the event more challenging for NASA is that its other commercial crew capsule provider, Boeing, is having its own problems. But until then, SpaceX is building another Crew Dragon capsule for the crew test.

The Los Angeles Times reports that the vehicle in question was indeed the same one that docked with the International Space Station just a number of weeks ago. However, this isn't a significant timeline change, and we can only hope that the Crew Dragon project won't be affected.

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