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SpaceX Crew Capsule Destroyed in Fiery Explosion During Ground Test

NASA has been awarded $6.8 billion to SpaceX and rival Boeing Co to develop separate capsule systems to fly astronauts to space, but both companies have faced technical challenges and delays

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FILE - Photographer Thom Baur installs remote cameras around the Crew Drago spacecraft as it sits on launch pad 39A before the uncrewed test flight to the International Space Station from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., March 1, 2019. VOA

Nearly two weeks after a fiery explosion during a ground test of its new crew capsule, SpaceX confirmed Thursday that the vehicle was destroyed, but neither the company nor NASA, its primary customer, have publicly acknowledged the nature of the mishap.

Instead, Hans Koenigsmann, vice president of flight reliability for California-based Space Exploration Technologies Corp., known as SpaceX, continued to refer to the accident simply as an “anomaly,” jargon for when something goes wrong.

The April 20 accident occurred at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station as SpaceX was about to test eight emergency thrusters designed to propel the capsule, dubbed Crew Dragon, to safety from atop the rocket in the event of a launch failure.

“Just prior, before we wanted to fire the (thrusters), there was an anomaly and the vehicle was destroyed,” Koenigsmann told reporters Thursday at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. “There were no injuries. SpaceX had taken all safety measures prior to this test, as we always do.”

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FILE – The SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule is pictured, March 3, 2019, about 20 meters (66 feet) from the International Space Station’s Harmony module. SpaceX said May 2, 2019, that their Dragon capsule for astronauts was destroyed during a ground test, April 20, 2019. VOA

The news conference was called ahead of Friday’s scheduled launch of an unmanned resupply mission to the International Space Station using a cargo-only capsule built by SpaceX, the private rocket venture of billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk.

When pressed about the accident, Koenigsmann declined to say whether an explosion or fire was involved. NASA has likewise declined to describe the mishap.

A leaked video of the accident, which a NASA contractor has acknowledged as authentic in an internal memo obtained by the Orlando Sentinel newspaper, showed the capsule blasting to smithereens. A pall of smoke was also widely observed from a distance at the time of the ill-fated test.

SpaceX’s reluctance to describe in plain terms what happened to the capsule was at odds with NASA’s long history of transparency surrounding accidents involving its human spaceflight program.

The Crew Dragon had been scheduled to carry U.S. astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the space station in a test mission in July, although April’s accident, as well as some vehicle design hitches, are likely to push that launch to later in the year or into 2020. “It’s certainly not great news for the schedule overall, but I hope we can recover,” Koenigsmann said.

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NASA has been awarded $6.8 billion to SpaceX and rival Boeing Co to develop separate capsule systems to fly astronauts to space. Pixabay

The destroyed vehicle was one of six such capsules built or in late production by SpaceX, and the first flown into space. A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched it without crew to the space station in March for a six-day visit before returning to Earth, splashing down safely in the Atlantic for retrieval.

Koenigsmann said initial data from the accident showed the mishap occurred during activation of the emergency thrusters, which SpaceX calls the SuperDraco system.

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“We have no reason to believe there is an issue with the SuperDracos themselves,” Koenigsmann said, adding that the engines have been tested nearly 600 times in the past.

NASA has been awarded $6.8 billion to SpaceX and rival Boeing Co to develop separate capsule systems to fly astronauts to space, but both companies have faced technical challenges and delays. (VOA)

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Starship Could Fly People Next Year, Says SpaceX CEO Elon Musk

“In the meantime, Commercial Crew is years behind schedule. NASA expects to see the same level of enthusiasm focused on the investments of the taxpayer. It’s time to deliver.”

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SpaceX founder and chief executive Elon Musk, left, announces Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa (R) as the first private passenger on a trip around the moon. VOA

Unveiling his plans for the Starship rocket, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has said that the reusable launch system designed to take humans to the Moon, Mars and beyond could fly with crew next year.

“I think we could potentially see people fly next year, if we get to orbit in about six months,” Musk said during a presentation on the company’s progress towards making interplanetary travel a reality on Saturday which marked the 11th anniversary of SpaceX reaching orbit for the first time.

The ever-optimistic tech billionaire, however, added that much would depend on the continued improvements in building the rockets.

Building reusable rockets is fundamental to making space travel a reality, he said at the event held at SpaceX’s South Texas test site.

“It’s the holy grail of space travel,” he said, while standing beneath Starship Mk1, a prototype for the SpaceX launch system.

“To date, we’ve completed 78 launches and have developed the world’s only operational reusable orbital class rockets and spacecraft – capable of launching to space, returning to Earth, and flying again,” SpaceX said.

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AI could be first ‘resident’ of Mars, hints Musk. (Wikimedia Commons)

The company said that Starship will ultimately carry as many as 100 people on long-duration, interplanetary flights.

SpaceX is building Starship with a mission to provide affordable delivery of significant quantities of cargo and people, essential for building Moon bases and Mars cities.

“Starship serves as a large, long-duration spacecraft capable of carrying passengers or cargo to Earth orbit, planetary destinations, and between destinations on Earth,” SpaceX said.

However, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine on Friday reminded SpaceX that it was time to deliver the Crew Dragon spacecraft designed to fly crew to and from the International Space Station.

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“I am looking forward to the SpaceX announcement tomorrow,” Bridenstine wrote on Twitter on Friday.

“In the meantime, Commercial Crew is years behind schedule. NASA expects to see the same level of enthusiasm focused on the investments of the taxpayer. It’s time to deliver.” (IANS)