On Saturday afternoon, there was an incident at Cape Canaveral involving SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule. The event, which did not result in any injuries, is currently being investigated. It happened during a series of important tests designed to assess the safety of the capsule.
The company was conducting a static fire test, which involves firing the engines at full thrust, on the capsule's “emergency abort system”. This feature is crucial to guarantee the safety of any astronauts that might travel aboard the capsule. A similar system is in place in the Russian Soyuz capsule and got NASA’s Nick Hague and Roscosmos’ Alexey Ovchinin back to Earth safely after a malfunction last October.
The unfortunate events of Saturday’s test are likely to change the timeline for the first crewed launch by a private company as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. SpaceX was hoping that the first crewed launch would happen in June. It's unclear how severe the incident was and how it will affect SpaceX's plans, although, in an unverified video, the entire capsule appears to explode.
"Earlier today, SpaceX conducted a series of engine tests on a Crew Dragon test vehicle on our test stand at Landing Zone 1 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The initial tests completed successfully but the final test resulted in an anomaly on the test stand,” a SpaceX spokesperson said in a statement.
“Ensuring that our systems meet rigorous safety standards and detecting anomalies like this prior to flight are the main reasons why we test. Our teams are investigating and working closely with our NASA partners."
These sentiments were echoed by Jim Bridenstine, NASA’s administrator, who, in a tweet, also referred to Saturday's mishap as an anomaly. “This is why we test. We will learn, make the necessary adjustment, and safely move forward with our Commercial Crew Program,” he stated.
On March 3, SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft successfully docked with the International Space Station. The docking delivered supplies and carried a test dummy nicknamed Ripley, which recorded important data about what it's like to be a passenger inside the capsule. NASA's Commercial Crew Program will be how astronauts fly to space from American soil in the immediate future. This is something that hasn't happened since the Space Shuttle back in July 2011.
[H/T: Business Insider]