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SpaceX Suffers Serious Setback During Crew Capsule Testing

This capsule flew to the International Space Station last month on a crewless trial run, and it was supposed to be reused in a launch abort test in June

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FILE - The Dragon spacecraft is seen in this photo provided by SpaceX. VOA

SpaceX has suffered a serious setback in its effort to launch NASA astronauts into orbit this year, with the fiery loss of its first crew capsule during testing.

Over the weekend, the company’s recently flown Dragon crew capsule was engulfed in smoke and flames on an engine test stand at Cape Canaveral. SpaceX was testing the Dragon’s abort thrusters when Saturday’s accident occurred.

The company said the test area was clear and no one was injured.

This capsule flew to the International Space Station last month on a crewless trial run, and it was supposed to be reused in a launch abort test in June. Another capsule was supposed to follow with two astronauts as early as July. Astronauts haven’t launched from Florida since 2011.

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FILE – The SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule approaches the International Space Station, March 3, 2019. VOA

NASA said Monday it’s too early to revise the target launch dates, given that the accident is still so fresh. “This is why we test,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement over the weekend. “We will learn, make the necessary adjustments and safely move forward with our commercial crew program.”

Until Saturday, SpaceX was on a roll to resume crew launches from Florida. The March test flight, to the space station and back, went smoothly. The SuperDraco thrusters embedded in the sides of the capsule were not used during the demo.

The thrusters are crucial to protect astronauts in flight; they’re designed to fire in an emergency and pull the capsule safely away from the rocket.

The University of Southern California’s Garrett Reisman, a former NASA astronaut who directed space operations for SpaceX until last year, said it was a “tough day … not good” for the company. “But thankfully no one got hurt and with everything we learn from this anomaly Crew Dragon will be a safer vehicle for all her future crews,” he tweeted.

SpaceX said it will make sure, through the accident investigation, that the Dragon is one of the safest spacecraft ever built for astronauts. The California-based company released few details, though, on the accident itself and how it might impact future flights.

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Federal oversight authorities warned NASA last year that more delays could leave US astronauts stranded if the new capsules were not ready to fly in 2019. Pixabay

Former NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe, now with Syracuse University, said via email Monday that it’s “too early to tell what the implications may be.”

SpaceX and Boeing

NASA has not launched astronauts from Cape Canaveral since the last shuttle flight in 2011, instead paying for rides on Russian rockets. The space agency turned the job over to two private companies — SpaceX and Boeing — to build new capsules to ferry astronauts to and from the space station.

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Earlier this month, NASA announced major delays for test flights of Boeing’s Starliner crew capsule. The initial trip to the space station, without astronauts, is targeted for August, with the first Starliner crew potentially flying by year’s end.

NASA stressed that next week’s launch of a SpaceX Dragon cargo capsule remains on track. The supply ship is set to blast off from Cape Canaveral on April 30. SpaceX has been making deliveries to the space station since 2012. The crew Dragon is a much-enhanced version of the cargo version. (VOA)

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SpaceX Plans To Send NASA Astronauts To Space in Q2 This Year

As part of the test on Sunday, SpaceX configured Crew Dragon to trigger a launch escape about 1.5 minutes after liftoff

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It took a lot of work between NASA and SpaceX to get to this point. Pixabay

After NASA and SpaceX successfully completed a launch escape demonstration of the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket, Elon Musk said that his aerospace company aims to send NASA astronauts to space between April and June this year.

This was the final major flight test of the spacecraft before it begins carrying astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) under NASA’s Commercial Crew Programme, the US space agency said in a statement on Sunday.

With this test now complete, the next big flight of the Crew Dragon will have people on board: NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley.

“We’re highly confident that the hardware will be ready in Q1, most likely at the end of February but no later than March. And we think it appears probable that the first crewed launch would occur in the second quarter,” said Musk after the successful uncrewed test of its Crew Dragon capsule’s in-flight launch escape capabilities.

Musk said that if all goes well, the first crewed flight on the Crew Dragon could take place in the second quarter of this year.

“This critical flight test puts us on the cusp of returning the capability to launch astronauts in American spacecraft on American rockets from American soil,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “We are thrilled with the progress NASA’s Commercial Crew Programme is making and look forward to the next milestone for Crew Dragon.”

As part of the test on Sunday, SpaceX configured Crew Dragon to trigger a launch escape about 1.5 minutes after liftoff. All major functions were executed, including separation, engine firings, parachute deployment and landing. Crew Dragon splashed down at 10:38 am just off the Florida coast in the Atlantic Ocean.

“As far as we can tell thus far, it’s a picture perfect mission. It went as well as one can possibly expect,” said Musk. “This is a reflection of the dedication and hard work of the SpaceX and NASA teams to achieve this goal. Obviously, I’m super fired up. This is great.”

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After NASA and SpaceX successfully completed a launch escape demonstration of the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket, Elon Musk said that his aerospace company aims to send NASA astronauts to space between April and June this year. Wikimedia Commons

Prior to the flight test, teams completed launch day procedures for the first crewed flight test, from suit-up to launch pad operations. The joint teams now will begin the full data reviews that need to be completed prior to NASA astronauts flying the system during SpaceX’s Demo-2 mission. “The past few days have been an incredible experience for us,” said astronaut Doug Hurley.

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“Today, we watched the demonstration of a system that we hope to never use, but can save lives if we ever do. It took a lot of work between NASA and SpaceX to get to this point, and we can’t wait to take a ride to the space station soon,” he said in the NASA statement. (IANS)