NASA’s agreement with Russia to ferry American astronauts to the International Space Station along with Russian cosmonauts on its Soyuz rocket platform every few months will expire soon, and NASA is counting on commercial aerospace companies like Boeing and SpaceX to bring these launches back to American soil for the first time since the space shuttle program.
SpaceX proved the flight capabilities of its Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule during the first demonstration mission launch in February. Everything seemed to go off without a hitch at first glance, but it’s vital that SpaceX proves the capabilities of its platform with an actual crew onboard before NASA lets the commercial space company ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station.
Image Credit: SpaceX
SpaceX is expected to conduct a crewed demonstration launch by July, a first of its kind for a commercial space company, with Boeing following up with its demonstration launches for NASA later this year. Unfortunately, SpaceX might not make that deadline, as an unexpected ‘anomaly’ purportedly transpired over the weekend as SpaceX conducted tests involving its Crew Dragon capsule at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
The following photograph, shared on Saturday via Twitter by space news reporter Emre Kelly, shows what appears to be puffs of smoke originating from SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule during testing. The smoke was visible to all nearby beachgoers, and while it raised some concerns, NASA and SpaceX ensured the world that everything was under control:
Image Credit: Emre Kelly/Twitter
“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,” NASA acting administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement on Twitter. “This is why we test. We will learn, make necessary adjustments and safely move forward with our Commercial Crew Program.”
SpaceX furthered the comment by noting that all initial tests performed as expected, and that the anomaly transpired on the final test involving the Crew Dragon capsule’s SuperDraco engines.
The anomaly was purportedly contained, and no one was injured in the process. On the other hand, this looks bad for SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule. NASA will surely want additional testing performed before it trusts the anomaly-prone capsule with the safety of living human beings high above the Earth’s surface, and it remains to be seen whether there will be delays in meeting the July deadline.
NASA’s other commercial space partner, Boeing, is expected to move forward with its first uncrewed rocket launch demonstration in August.