SpaceX confirms the anomaly during the Crew Dragon engine override test: Spaceflight Now

EDITOR'S NOTE: Updated at 7:30 p.m. EDT (2330 GMT) with additional details. Updated at 7:55 p.m. EDT (2355 GMT) with new photo. Updated at 8:20 p.m. EDT (0020 GMT) with the Bridenstine declaration.

An orange feather rises from Landing Zone 1, where SpaceX usually lands its rocket boosters, in this image taken by a pbadenger on a tourist bus from the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex on Saturday. Credit: Francisco Sedano (@fsedano)

An accident on Saturday during an engine override test in a Crew Dragon test vehicle at Cape Canaveral sent a reddish-orange plume into the sky visible for miles away, a setback for SpaceX and NASA as the teams prepare the capsule for your first mission with astronauts.

SpaceX is testing the Crew Dragon before the first test flight of the capsule with astronauts later this year, following a successful Crew Dragon demonstration mission to the International Space Station in early March.

SpaceX confirmed the accident, reported for the first time by Florida Today in a statement Saturday night. No injuries were reported.

"Previously, SpaceX conducted a series of engine tests on a Crew Dragon test vehicle on our test bench at Landing Zone 1 in Cape Canaveral, Florida," said a company spokesman. "The initial tests were completed successfully, but the final test resulted in an anomaly on the test bench."

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine tweeted that the space agency was notified of the accident.

"The NASA and SpaceX teams are evaluating the anomaly that occurred today during a part of the Dragon Super Draco static fire test at SpaceX 1 in Florida," said Bridenstine in a written statement. "That's why we tested, we will learn, we will make the necessary adjustments and we will advance safely with our Commercial Crew Program."

A photo taken by a Florida Today photographer at a local beach showed an orange column visible on the horizon in the direction of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. These plumes are usually badociated with burns or leakage of toxic hypergolic propellants.

Florida Today reported that unconfirmed reports suggested that the Crew Dragon test vehicle was nearly destroyed, and workers in the area said they heard explosions.

Crew Dragon propellants consume higergólica hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide propellants, which are chemically inflamed when mixed. The Draco Dragon Crew propellers are used for orbit maneuvers and for targeting, while eight larger SuperDraco thrusters, packaged in pairs in four propulsion modules, are used to abort during a launch emergency.

The SuperDraco propellers fire a prototype of SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft at the company's test site in central Texas. Credit: SpaceX

"Ensuring that our systems meet rigorous safety standards and detect anomalies like this before the flight are the main reasons why we perform tests," said a SpaceX spokesman. "Our teams are researching and working closely with our partners at NASA."

A dispatcher at the Brevard County Emergency Operations Center said local officials were aware of the SpaceX crash at Cape Canaveral, but were not aware of any risk to the public.

The SuperDraco propellers are designed to push the Crew Dragon spacecraft away from a missile that fails during launch. Each motor has a 3D printed camera and can produce up to 16,000 pounds of thrust, with the ability to restart several times.

SpaceX did not specify which Crew Dragon vehicle was involved in Saturday's accident on the test bench, but people familiar with the company's test plans said it was probably the same spacecraft that successfully flew to the space station that month. past. Teams on the ground returned the Crew Dragon spacecraft to Cape Canaveral after its fall on March 8 in the Atlantic Ocean.

The engineers planned to renew the capsule for a flight abortion test starting in June, in which the Crew Dragon would activate its SuperDraco engines at high altitude about a minute after launch from the Kennedy Space Center on a Falcon 9 rocket. SpaceX planned the hot fire tests of the Crew Dragon abortion propulsion system, such as the SuperDraco test conducted on Saturday, before the flight abortion test.

The high-altitude abortion test is intended to demonstrate that the Crew Dragon capsule can save astronauts from a catastrophic explosion under the most extreme aerodynamic forces during launch. The test is one of the final tests for the Crew Dragon program before NASA signs the sending of astronauts to the spacecraft.

The first mission of SpaceX Crew Dragon with astronauts, known as Demo-2, was scheduled not before July 25. NASA said earlier this month it would rebadess the launch date of the Demo-2 mission in the coming weeks, and sources recently suggested, before the accident on Saturday, that the release of Demo-2 would likely be rescheduled for September or early October.

The shuttle astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley are badigned to the Demo-2 mission.

SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft is unloaded from a recovery ship on March 9 after returning to Port Canaveral after a six-day test flight to the International Space Station. Credit: NASA / Isaac Watson

NASA awarded SpaceX and Boeing multi-million dollar contracts in 2014 to develop the Crew Dragon and CST-100 Starliner spacecraft to transport astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

The first non-pilot flight of the Starliner spacecraft from Boeing to the space station is scheduled for August, followed by a test flight with astronauts in November. Boeing delayed Starliner test flights after a fuel leak during an engine cancellation test in a test article last year forced engineers to redesign part of the ship's propulsion system.

Once the commercial crew spacecraft completes its test programs, NASA plans to rotate the crew of four to and from the space station, ending the agency's sole agency on the ships of the Russian Soyuz crew. . The Soyuz capsules have taken all NASA astronauts into orbit since the space shuttle retreat in 2011.

SpaceX has won a series of NASA contracts totaling more than $ 3.1 billion since 2010 to develop the Crew Dragon spacecraft with human qualification. A similar set of contracts was awarded to Boeing, worth more than $ 4.8 billion.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @ StephenClark1.

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