SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft destroyed in test mishap, company confirms today

SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft destroyed in test mishap, company confirms today

SpaceX has confirmed that its Crew Dragon capsule "anomaly" resulted in the destruction of the spacecraft, as new details about the schedule-derailing incident continue to drip out.

The Crew Dragon spacecraft was launched on a successful unpiloted test flight to the International Space Station in March and was being prepared for an in-flight test of its emergency abort system, created to quickly fire and propel the craft away from a malfunctioning booster, when something went terribly wrong. (These are the same thrusters used by Cargo Dragon.) But just before the SuperDracos - special engines embedded in the craft's hull that pull the capsule to safety in the event of a launch emergency - were fired, something went wrong and the vehicle exploded.

On April 20, billowing orange smoke was seen at Cape Canaveral, Florida, where SpaceX was testing the capsule.

Koenigsmann spoke at a briefing NASA held prior to the scheduled May 3 launch of a cargo Dragon spacecraft on a mission to the International Space Station.

As such, SpaceX and NASA will go ahead on the upcoming ISS cargo mission, which will use a Falcon 9 rocket and Cargo Dragon capsule.

NASA delayed this week's SpaceX delivery, following Monday's breakdown of one of the station's original power-switching units, a critical part of the solar energy system.

"Finishing the investigation and resolving this anomaly is actually our prime focus, certainly for me, right now", he said.

As to the schedule of NASA's Commercial Crew Program, which plans to return astronauts to space from the American soil for the first time since 2011, SpaceX is not yet sure where it stands in the timeline.

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'We have no reason to believe that there is an issue with the SuperDraco themselves - those have been through about 600 tests at our test facility.

In a statement that aired on NASA TV, Hans Koenigsmann said the investigation so far indicates that the failure occurred during activation of the SuperDraco propulsion system, though NASA and SpaceX are still 'looking at all possible issues'. While Crew Dragon - which is, as the name suggests, created to transport up to four human passengers rather than just cargo - is based on the same core design, it has the SuperDraco thrusters while the cargo variant does not.

Koenigsmann said the investigation is ongoing, with lots of data and analysis still needing review.

"I don't want to completely preclude the current schedule", he said.

But the explosion should not have any effect on SpaceX's Cargo Dragon capsules, NASA said Thursday.

"The vehicle was destroyed", Koenigsmann said. Kenny Todd, NASA's space station operations and integration manager, said the faulty unit was swapped out by controllers using the station's robotic arm, clearing the way for the launch to proceed. Forecasts improve to 70 percent for a backup launch date May 4 at 2:48 a.m.

Before the accident, SpaceX had been shooting for a summertime crew launch.

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