NASA Expresses “Full Confidence” in SpaceX as Investigation into Explosion Continues

Completing an end-to-end uncrewed flight test, Demo-1, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon departed the International Space Station at 2:32 a.m. EST Friday, March 8, 2019, and splashed down at 8:45 a.m. in the Atlantic Ocean about 200 nautical miles off the Florida coast. (Credits: NASA Television)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

We got a smidgen of additional information today about the “anomaly” (explosion) that destroyed a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft during a test at Cape Canaveral on Saturday.

Patricia Sanders, chairwoman of the NASA Aviation and Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP), told the group during its regularly scheduled meeting that the incident occurred during an operation to test the spacecraft’s Draco maneuvering thrusters and larger SuperDraco emergency escape motors.

“The event occurred during a static fire test conducted prior to the in-flight abort test,” Sanders said. “The firing was intended to demonstrate integrated systems SuperDraco performance in two times vehicle level vibro-acoustic-like for abort environments.

“Firing of 12 service section Dracos were successfully performed. Firing of eight SuperDracos resulted in an anomaly,” she added.

SpaceX is leading the investigation into the accident with the active participation of NASA, Sanders added.

Meanwhile, NASA issued a statement of support for Elon Musk’s rocket company on Wednesday.

“SpaceX and NASA are just beginning the mishap investigation process. We don’t yet know what impact this will have to our target schedules. We have full confidence in SpaceX. Additional information will be released as it is available,” the agency said.

The Crew Dragon capsule was the same one that flew a flight test without a crew to the International Space Station in March. It was being prepared for an in-flight abort test that would have evaluated the SuperDraco escape motors.

The abort test is one of the last major milestones before a crewed flight to the space station later this year. SpaceX had hoped to conduct the abort test in June and the crewed mission in July. However, that schedule is up in the air.

It’s not clear how far along SpaceX is on additional Crew Dragon spacecraft to fly those missions.