SpaceX confirms crew capsule destroyed in ground testing

Pablo Tucker
May 3, 2019

That was pretty huge news at the time, and after it successfully landed without a hitch, things were looking very positive for future Crew Dragon tests (and eventual crewed flights).

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.

Those CRS-2 Dragon missions will use "propulsive" landings, where the capsule lands on a landing pad using its SuperDraco thrusters rather than splashing down in the ocean.

Koenigsmann said that the spacecraft had, earlier in the day, completed other tests on the stand, including of its smaller Draco thrusters.

"We do not think it was a problem with the SuperDraco itself", he said. "I don't want to completely preclude the current schedule, (but) certainly not great news for the schedule overall".

SpaceX was supposed to perform an in-flight abort test next with the vehicle that was destroyed, followed by a test with crew to the ISS as early as July with an updated version of Crew Dragon.

Nine minutes into the SpaceX launch, the Falcon 9's Cargo Dragon module will detach and make its way to the ISS.

"We have tons of data, but we don't have now something we can say, oh, it was most likely this or that", he said. That mission would have been the first launch of US astronauts aboard an American rocket from USA soil since the space shuttle was retired in 2011.

Flight rules required the lost power channels to be restored to ensure full backup capability for the Canadarm-2 robotic arm, which astronauts will use to capture the Dragon as it flies near the station. "I nearly feel like they're encouraging us right now, and they are helping us in keeping our motivation and not fall into a hole, basically, and get worked up over this, but rather stay focused".

Liftoff from Launch Complex 40 is targeted for 3:11 a.m. Friday. This aligns with NASA's resupply plans and helps explain why the space agency greenlighted the capsule to fly despite the ongoing investigation with the crewed counterpart.

But the explosion should not have any effect on SpaceX's Cargo Dragon capsules, NASA said Thursday. "We feel very comfortable moving forward with this particular mission". The design of a COPV used on the Falcon 9's second stage was blamed for an explosion during preparations for a static-fire test of the rocket in September 2016, leading to a redesign of that pressure vessel. The cargo spacecraft doesn't have the same SuperDraco thrusters.

Flight controllers completed the fix work Thursday, operating the station's big robot arm by remote control.

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. Forecasters predicted a 60 percent chance of a launch delay due to thick clouds and rain, but conditions were expected to improve to 70 percent "go" Saturday.

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