What was supposed to be the last test of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule before NASA approved the company’s bid to put astronauts on board for a crewed test set has ended with plumes of smoke over Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The test firing of the rocket’s engines experienced what SpaceX has dubbed an “anomaly,” according to the Orlando Sentinel. No one was hurt in the incident, but according to Florida Today, large plumes of smoke were seen emanating from the area, indicating that something had gone wrong. The accident was big enough to show up on radar.
— Jabes ???????? (@GISRockstar) April 20, 2019
After its launch of a dummy astronaut named Ripley, successful docking with the International Space Station, and splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean last month, SpaceX was seemingly ahead in the race among commercial spaceflight companies to transport humans to the stars. While SpaceX has not confirmed the extent of the damage, the so-called anomaly most likely damaged—if not entirely destroyed—the Crew Dragon capsule that was used in those test runs. SpaceX was reportedly hoping to launch a crewed version of the spacecraft no earlier than July, as well as an in-flight abort test, or a demonstration of its life-saving abort capabilities, sometime before then, before carrying astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken to the International Space Station.
That timeline could now be derailed, although SpaceX tends to move quickly to diagnose problems and get back on track when things go awry, Ars Technica points out.
“Ensuring that our systems meet rigorous safety standards and detecting anomalies like this prior to flight are the main reasons why we test,” a company spokesperson said in a statement. “Our teams are investigating and working closely with our NASA partners.”
NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine tweeted a statement with the reminder, “This is why we test.”
BREAKING: #SpaceX Crew Dragon suffered an anomaly during test fire today, according to 45th Space Wing. Smoke could be seen on the beaches.
"On April 20, an anomaly occurred at Cape Canaveral AFS during Dragon 2 static test fire. Anomaly was contained and no injuries." pic.twitter.com/If5rdeGRXO
— Emre Kelly (@EmreKelly) April 20, 2019