What is known about the incident with the Crew Dragon capsule?

On Saturday during the engine test the spacecraft SpaceX Dragon happened “anomaly” — as it is dubbed by the company. For it is not clear how leaked video of the incident captured the countdown with the subsequent burning of the SuperDraco engines and boom, everything exploded. SpaceX does not recognize the accident and is not signed under the video, but unnamed sources report different information about the incident. Let’s harvest them.

After the accident, big beautiful cloud of orange smoke covered Landing Zone 1, where was held the Saturday tests. According to one source, the orange plumes were the result of burning of one or two tons of nitrogen tetroxide — the oxidizer that is used in the SuperDraco engines. What happened and what will SpaceX do — read on.

What was destroyed?

Crew Dragon capsule, which became the hero of the occasion, the same in March, which flew in the framework of a demonstration mission to the International space station. Spacecraft prepared for test cancel run this summer. According to plan, Dragon was supposed to launch with the Falcon 9 rocket from Florida and then activate a powerful SuperDraco engines, to see if I could get Dragon safely away from the rocket in case of problems with the booster before or during the flight.

Now that SpaceX has lost its capsule, she will have to find a replacement for this test cancel run. It is unclear whether it will be to gather the types of engine of eight SuperDraco engines or remake one from Dragon, which she had built for manned flights to the space station. In any case, this is a significant material loss for the company.

How did this happen?

Nobody knows. On the merged video anomaly occurs in the last 10 seconds of the countdown, and it started to work the SuperDraco engines or not. One of the sources said that the company has received a lot of data about the problem — it was the ground testing, so the unit was well equipped with tools, therefore, is to find the root of the problem will be easier than if the problem occurred during a real flight. In the best scenario, which would not entail delay for SpaceX, someone just incorrectly assembled equipment for ground tests. In the worst case, found a fundamental problem in the design of the SuperDraco engines.

During the previous accidents, Elon Musk is quite honestly told me the reasons of failures, and many hope that this time it will also be transparent and open. In the end, this device will carry into space people, and therefore everything that happens to him, should be interested in people and will be important for the progress of the company.

Was anyone hurt?

Fortunately, no. The last time we saw the refusal of ground staff have been in 1967, when the burning of “Apollo 1” three people were killed. Fortunately, nobody was hurt this time, which once again tells about the precautions SpaceX during these dynamic tests. If were injured or killed people, this is really complicated the way SpaceX.

What does this mean for commercial flight crews?

NASA has secured contracts for many billions of dollars SpaceX and Boeing in 2014 with the intention of enter the Dragon spacecraft and Cockpit in operation and to deliver U.S. astronauts to the space station. Before the accident, SpaceX and NASA have planned in early October to launch the first manned Dragon. Now almost certainly the launch will be delayed by a few months, until 2020. Until Saturday Starliner behind the Dragon in development, so to speak, and it is unlikely to bring people into space until 2020.

NASA recently signed an agreement with Russia to purchase two additional seats in the “Union” of one member of the crew on each, which will ensure the presence of the US crew on the station until September 2020. Now the Agency may be forced to return to Russian service and to purchase a place before the end of 2020.

What SpaceX is doing now?

Undoubtedly, the company was a stormy Easter weekend. The first step is to determine what happened, and then to work with NASA in order to fully understand the problem. After that we will need to develop a solution to the problem never happened again. Perhaps the company’s engineers already know what happened.

SpaceX also need to rely on NASA to rely on his experience in the field of systems for manned missions and also ask them to cover from political heat. After the failed launch of the Falcon 9 rocket in 2015, when lost mission resupply CRS-7 the Agency has supported its commercial partner. Head of NASA space flight William Gerstenmaier offered public support, the company recaptured a doubt in Congress and helped SpaceX return to flight very quickly.

In recent years, some critics of NASA have considered the Agency as a “check” SpaceX during the development of the Crew Dragon because of unnecessary bureaucracy and requirements. This may be true partly, but NASA is the customer, and Dragon are still present fault (and in the Cockpit, probably, too). The fact that NASA needs SpaceX and that the company and the Agency is looking for common ground, convenient to all, means that they will work side by side.

And there is precedent. After the fire of “Apollo 1” revealed numerous problems with the first version of the spacecraft, NASA worked closely with North America Aviation, then a contractor, and created a safer capsule design. Perhaps this was the key to the success of the lunar mission.

Not necessary to dump from accounts SpaceX

It would be easy to write off SpaceX, calling the company reckless. But the reality is that it works fast in different directions — the first is building the world’s largest reusable rocket (Falcon Heavy), improves the reuse of the first stage, launches more missiles than any other company, is building an unprecedented transport of the new generation of Starship.

This case shows that space is very difficult. Especially when it’s people want. But no one doubts that the company will recover and return to work. SpaceX has shown that it responds quickly to failures and makes decisions.

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