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SpaceX opens up about the Crew Dragon capsule destroyed in an accident

But it doesn't yet know what went wrong.

crewdragon

The SpaceX Crew Dragon has been to space, but not yet with humans inside.

NASA

SpaceX has been uncharacteristically mum since one of the company's Crew Dragon capsules suffered an "anomaly" last month. But that's beginning to change.

On April 20, billowing orange smoke was seen at Cape Canaveral, Florida, where SpaceX was testing the capsule. A grainy video later circulated online and appeared to show the Dragon exploding. 

SpaceX has refused to confirm whether the video is the real thing. At a briefing about Friday's planned Falcon 9 launch to send cargo to the International Space Station, the company's vice president of mission assurance, Hans Koenigsmann, again declined to comment on "a video that wasn't produced by SpaceX."

Koenigsmann did confirm that the mishap occurred when the Dragon was on the test stand. The capsule had successfully test-fired its smaller Draco thrusters, but just before it fired its SuperDraco engines, "there was an anomaly and the vehicle was destroyed."

Dragon_Landing.2k.jpg

The SuperDraco thrusters are designed to let the Dragon spacecraft land with pinpoint accuracy.

SpaceX

The SuperDraco engines are the main thrusters that'll let the craft land on Earth, the moon or perhaps elsewhere. They also serve as an escape system should something go wrong during launch.

"We have no reason to believe there is an issue with the SuperDracos themselves, those have been through about 600 tests," Koenigsmann said, adding that "it is too early to confirm any cause."

Koenigsmann said the investigation is ongoing, with lots of data and analysis still needing review. "I think this will actually make the program safer at the end of the day," he said.

Koenigsmann wouldn't say how the lost Dragon would affect the likelihood that the first crewed launch of the spacecraft would occur this year, as both SpaceX and NASA hope. He did note that SpaceX has other Dragons in its fleet. 

As part of its commercial crew program, NASA awarded contracts to both SpaceX and Boeing to build spacecraft to transport astronauts to the space station. Boeing hopes to test launch its Starliner craft in August. The first crewed launch of SpaceX's Dragon now looks to be dependent on the results of the investigation into last month's accident.

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