SpaceX delays launch to freshly repaired space station

Katie Ramirez
May 3, 2019

A memo obtained by the Orlando Sentinel seems to confirm that a video showing an explosion during a test of SpaceX's astronaut capsule is authentic - which, as the newspaper points out, neither the Elon Musk-led space venture nor NASA has publicly admitted so far.

Hans Koenigsmann, vice president of build and flight reliability at SpaceX, said at a NASA briefing about the upcoming launch of a cargo Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station that the anomaly took place just before the ignition of the SuperDraco thrusters on the spacecraft during an April 20 test at the company's Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

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

Less than 10 minutes after the mission's launch, SpaceX will attempt to land the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket on the deck of a ship stationed about 12 miles off Cape Canaveral. Earlier in the week, the flight was postponed by a major power shortage at the space station. By Thursday, flight controllers had replaced the box and restored full power to the orbiting outpost. Tucked inside the Dragon cargo hold are four different varieties: a lung and bone marrow chip, a cartilage and bone chip, a chip that simulates the blood-brain barrier, and one that cultivates kidney cells. They weren't used during the test flight to the space station in March.

He added that the company doesn't believe there is an issue with the SuperDraco thrusters themselves, as those have gone through about 600 similar tests in the past successfully. The system had been activated - which involves opening and closing valves, and pressurizing systems - when flames erupted.

For almost two weeks up until this point, both NASA and SpaceX have remained tight-lipped about the failed test, even as footage circulating the internet claimed to show the moment the Crew Dragon capsule exploded.

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

This is the 17th SpaceX mission under NASA's Commercial Resupply Services contract.

NASA has contracted with SpaceX and also Boeing to ferry astronauts to and from the space station, instead of having them hitch expensive rides on Russian rockets.

"We have tons of data, but we don't have now something we can say, oh, it was most likely this or that", he said. NASA said six Expedition 59 crew members, including three NASA astronauts, were never in danger.

Asked if there was still a chance for launching the Crew Dragon again this year, Koenigsmann replied, "I certainly hope so". The company is striving to launch a Starliner without astronauts to the space station in August.

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