A Crew Dragon capsule that underwent a Super Draco static fire test at SpaceX’s Florida-based Landing Zone 1 site a couple of weeks ago didn’t live to tell the tale. Immediately following the anomaly, flames and plumes of dark smoke engulfed the site, indicating what could only be described as a catastrophic failure.
Image Credit: Emre Kelly/Twitter
SpaceX is no stranger to mishaps, but this was an upsetting setback to SpaceX’s long-term goal of working with NASA to bring crewed space launches back to American soil for the first time since the Space Shuttle era. The commercial space company had just recently demonstrated the flight capabilities of its Falcon 9 rocket and was ready to move forward with its first crewed demo flight later this year; but perhaps not…
Both NASA and SpaceX have been unusually quiet about the anomaly; they've mostly left the public in the dark about the incident and its aftermath. However, both parties are working closely with one another to investigate the root cause of the failure such that it won’t happen again – especially not with living people onboard.
It wasn’t until this past Thursday that SpaceX finally spoke up regarding details about the incident, and as it would seem, the Crew Dragon involved in the anomaly two weeks ago is, in fact, deemed a complete loss. The fire allegedly transpired after the Draco engines discharged, but before the Super Draco launch abort engines could.
But that’s about all we know about the situation currently; the test-fire site remains off-limits, pending a more thorough investigation. As you might come to expect, NASA’s decision to move forward with a crewed Crew Dragon demonstration this year will depend heavily on the results of the investigation and whether this is something that can be avoided in the next run.
SpaceX is hopeful about the pending investigation, noting that more Crew Dragon capsules are coming off the assembly line as time goes by and that the company will be ready whenever NASA chooses to move forward with another Super Draco static fire test.
Image Credit: SpaceX
It’s worth noting that NASA has also partnered with Boeing to conduct crewed space launches, and even if SpaceX can’t get its act together this year, Boeing may still get the chance to do so. NASA doesn’t have much choice in the matter, especially since the American space agency’s agreement with Russia to piggyback off the nation’s Soyuz platform will soon expire.
Those rooting for SpaceX’s success can only hope that the investigation finds an easy fix for the problem. Otherwise, it could be back to the drawing board for SpaceX, and that would impact the company’s projected launch timeline with NASA.