After weeks of speculation, SpaceX has finally admitted that a Crew Dragon capsule was destroyed during a test of system’s abort thrusters on April 20. No cause was given for the anomaly, nor were any new details disclosed about possible delays to NASA’s languishing Commercial Crew Program.
Speaking to reporters at a NASA briefing held earlier this week, Hans Koenigsmann, the vice president of build and flight reliability at SpaceX, said the mishap is “certainly not great news,” in terms of the company’s plan to launch astronauts into space later this year, as CBS News reports. The purpose of the briefing was to discuss an upcoming cargo launch to the ISS, but the incident, in which a Crew Dragon capsule got torched just prior to the firing of launch-abort thrusters, dominated much of the discussion.
The mishap occurred at Cape Canaveral’s Landing Zone 1 on April 20 during static ground tests of the system’s boosters. The Crew Dragon was reportedly engulfed in flames and thick orange-black smoke, which was probably toxic, could be seen for miles. Both NASA and SpaceX have been tight-lipped about the incident, but Koenigsmann shared some new information with reporters during the briefing.
Tests of the system’s smaller, maneuvering Draco thrusters were done earlier in the day without incident, he said. It was when the focus shifted to the system’s larger SuperDraco boosters—a series of eight thrusters tied to the abort system—that things went sideways.
“At the test stand, we powered up Dragon, it powered up as expected, we completed tests with the Draco thrusters—the smaller thrusters that are also on the cargo Dragon,” said Koenigsmann per CBS News. “And then just before we wanted to fire the SuperDracos there was an anomaly and the vehicle was destroyed.”