SpaceX: Crew Dragon Explosion Occurred Prior to SuperDraco Firing

An instrumented mannequin sit in the Crew Dragon spacecraft for the Demo-1 mission. (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX provided more information today about the explosion that destroyed a Crew Dragon capsule on the test on April 20 as Elon Musk’s company prepares to launch a Dragon resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) on Friday.

During a pre-flight conference on Thursday, Vice President of Mission Assurance Hans Koenigsmann said the Crew Dragon capsule powered up as expected for the test. Engineers then fired the small Draco maneuvering thrusters successfully.

The explosion occurred during the activation of the SuperDraco abort system but prior to the firing of the engines. Koenigsmann said the problem was not with the thrusters themselves, which have been tested about 600 times.

Koenigsmann said investigators are still trying to piece together precisely what happened. The investigation is being led by SpaceX with the assistance of NASA.

The destroyed Crew Dragon capsule flew a flight test to the ISS in March. SpaceX planned to use it in an in-flight abort test that had been scheduled for June.

The abort test is one of the last major milestones prior to a crewed flight test to the space station. That was nominally scheduled for July, but unofficial account indicate it was going to slip several months.

Koenigsmann said he did not know what the impact of the accident on the schedule. He noted that SpaceX has a number of Crew Dragon spacecraft in various stages of production.

Meanwhile, SpaceX is preparing to launch a cargo Dragon resupply mission to the space station on Friday. Liftoff is set for 3:11 a.m. EDT (0711 GMT ) from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The launch was delayed for two days due to a power problem on the station that was corrected over night.

The weather forecast is not looking very good for the Friday morning launch.

  • Saturn1300

    I hope the review has all parties agreeing. I Reviewed the CRS-7 IRT review.

    1. NASA, FAA, USAF were on the board.

    2. LSP informed LSP, CCP, ISS of what was found out.
    3.The IRT was the LSP.
    4. Helium tank breaking loose was the cause. SpaceX says strut broke. IRT said eyebolt broke.
    5. Leaks of LOX and Kerosene that could be the cause was not credible.
    6. SpaceX did corrective actions.
    7. I conclude that NASA, FAA, USAF did not fire or fine or punish SpaceX in any public manner that I have heard of. I disagree with their not doing anything to punish SpaceX.

    I did screen shots of the report for easy reading I hope. Looks ok. Doug could do a better job. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/a0a6dfd009b9b6c28a566eec7f6809642fd233ec3dc66621985f89f9017b346a.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/dbebbda53534c07d02e9581d34a6c047f7399adc3d9db9f7b30f57d5d4ab0294.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/7c169bd5e6f9e359651e76dae52851e78ea6b7fbe4a25f8e73ecf2b855f672c0.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/ed5a81eb72ed3dab80f784d3e2712a8285d1afaa70f4d5b276a6a8c1fc49c4fa.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/8b2877d9eb326713384462e5ec5fe6ca078a42ead712ed3ea6e8b86fb1a83552.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/88ad7ddb91d759a3e3255db8c0df10c81f215107cd52a3dbb73d366f78db16f4.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/fe3b15aadfadf0251a541420272c376f0216b5af65d10eb6fa0e8ebc16cf6082.jpg

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/c701cbb643323928fbae9cf479d5233c70ea86d757a94cc40d065a6fb7fd8ea3.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/6f9364e6875e4e52fb8f11bb55136d682777fa1cda397fd73156098e9cc2b573.jpg

  • duheagle

    The accident occurred April 20, not April 21. The maneuvering thrusters on Dragon 2 are called Dracos, not Dragos.

  • ThomasLMatula

    So they were pressurizing the system before doing the firing. That should narrow the options.

  • windbourne

    I must be an idiot. Where does it say that it was during pressurization? I see that small dracos fired which use the same tankage, so, what am I missing?

  • windbourne

    What does crs-7 have to do with dragon V2?

  • ThomasLMatula

    It states it happened between the activation of the system and the actual firing…

  • Paul_Scutts

    Possibly those (part of) lines that are unique to the Super Draco engines only, windbourne. Regards, Paul.

  • duheagle

    They’re both SpaceX failures. And Saturn1300 is convinced CRS-7 happened because SpaceX descided to save money by using nuts and bolts purchased at the Lowe’s across the street from the Hawthorne plant.

  • windbourne

    Right. Not necessarily the pressurization, though.

  • windbourne

    Lmao. Is he Gary?

  • windbourne

    I’ve been wondering if a valve stuck open.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Friday’s launch to the ISS would not be going forward if there was even a hint that maybe the culprit was not unique to the Super Draco’s and was common with subsystems on Dragon 1.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Yeah, well they should go with Copper State Nut and Bolt. Made in Phx Arizona, been using them for almost 30 years my telescopes love ’em. Speaking of fasteners, I was in Rockford Illinois yesterday and drove past a lot of out of business fastener shops. I used to own a Brown and Sharpe 00G. My grandmother ran one in WWII.

  • Saturn1300

    False. I think either theory could be correct. I lean toward NASA because they have a longer history. What I am worried about is the use of non aerospace parts. If NASA can do a test of the setup and apply the G’s that the tank had on it, then they can prove which is correct. Maybe. The tests SpaceX did after the fact showed a wide difference in strength of different struts. They did not do acceptance tests on the struts. I do not know if they did on the rod ends. Pull tests. I guess they just said: This ought to work. I would think that other aerospace companies would complain about no penalties. FAA should refund all penalties they have given to others to be fair. They had all the facts and did nothing.

  • ThomasLMatula

    We will see when the final report is out.

  • Paul_Scutts

    That, windbourne, or a retaining nut has come lose, or a part of the line, like an elbow joint, has worked excessively and caused a stress crack, etc., etc., etc.. But, my guess is that it is quite likely related to the excessive vibration experienced by the Dragon. Time will tell. Regards, Paul.

  • Robert G. Oler

    thats how they lost the Falcon 1 first flight wasnt it?

  • Saturn1300

    I finally saw the pre-launch news conference. Turned on Super Dracco system and boom. Sounds like a leak of both fuels. The salt water from EM-1 could have caused it I think. F-1 had a failure when a nut corroded by salt air failed. Mag. maybe. Spacex has shown a lack of thinking of all dangers that using material may have. As in CRS-7. As in the good and bad. If no one remembered this accident or the SpaceX computer did not issue an alert when the log book entry of using the same nuts was detected. Then the nuts could be identical on both fuels and failed at the same time. Causing a leak of hypergolic fuels and boom. Hans should check this. He did not seem to have considered the salt water theory. Hans said there is very little commonality with Dragon-1.

    USAF, aviation has log books for each vehicle. If a problem repeated, I would go back through history to try to find the problem. SpaceX should do the same with their vehicles. Since electronic log books may be used today, a simple search manually or an automatic search by the computer of any entry may find a problem before there is a boom!

  • duheagle

    Might have saved it if they had. I’ve bought stainless nuts and bolts at that Lowe’s but I don’t remember any aluminum ones in stock. But the first F1 was lost well before SpaceX moved into the ex-Northrop works on Crenshaw Blvd.

  • duheagle

    Never ran across one of those. Bravo to your grandma – real Rosie the Riveter stuff there. Both my grandmas were 60-ish when WW2 started. My family runs to long generations on both sides.

    Rockford is just one of many midwest cities whose fortunes have been on the decline for most of the last half-century. Not much call for fasteners when the bigger outfits that buy them go toes up or move away. Now that we have rational government economic policy again, maybe Rockford’s future will prove brighter than its recent past. Here’s hoping.

    As for SpaceX’s nuts and bolts, I have no idea from where those are sourced and neither does anyone else on this forum – which doesn’t prevent a lot of silly talk. I imagine their sources are local, even if not the Lowe’s across the street. The L.A. area has doubtless lost some fastener shops over the years – CA has lost a lot of manufacturing since the 70’s – but there are plenty left too, though they seem to be located mostly well east and south of where a lot of the aerospace factories used to be. Cheaper land prices and/or rents most likely.

  • duheagle

    No. He’s as weirdly fixated as Gary, but on different stuff. He’s also a lot more elliptical and rambling in his posts. Gary, think of him what you will, is always direct and to the point. Said point is often ridiculous, but it’s always clear and quickly laid out. Gary’s doesn’t average being anywhere near as wordy as this guy.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Had dinner with an old shop owner in Rockford. He used to do contract work with AC Delco. He reported as the work was going to China in the 90’s and early 00’s he was able to keep up with costs by monitoring the cost of shipping both ways. Much of the work would have origin in the US then shipped to China for refining work, and shipped back to the US for finishing work. Delco’s negotiators let him know that even though he was cost competitive with the Chinese he could not offer them a relationship with a government. AC Delco was shipping work overseas as a means of furthering their relationship with the Chinese government in order to curry favor for access to the Chinese market. So it ain’t just cost. US industry has gone socialist as a matter of policy to serve the agenda of a hostile foreign power as a means of gaining access to that market and receiving all the government provided benefits that government has to offer. The ‘capitalist’ class you worship are really just another bunch of welfare queens and government stooges as bad as those people in line waiting for their Obama phones from years back.

    And your “Don’t worry be happy” approach to Trump’s negotiations with China. I challenge you to look at what negotiation points we can see and tell me which of those points will bring work back to the US break the relationships between US corporations and the Chinese government. Put in terms of an abusive marriage, the US is not asking for a divorce between the Chinese government and US corporations, they’re just asking the Chinese to please stop abusing US corporations.

  • windbourne

    no way. You made your own screws? Cool.
    We desperately need to bring this back. We are having garbage dumped on us.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    🙂 And they were crap. Making fasteners is a job for professionals not amateur garage machinists like me. I got the machine for free from an old timer who wanted the machine to not wind up as an I-beam in a Chinese skyscraper. But that said, making boutique fasteners and resistors are two small scale projects I have in mind for boosting my retirement income in my old age which is fast fast approaching.

  • duheagle

    The story about AC Delco sounds quite accurate. Delco is a division of what amounts to a U.S. state-owned corporation, GM. Like most long-time corporate welfare queens, GM will go for any line a good-looking stranger hands her. A lot of U.S. corporations have been similarly suckered over the years by smooth-talking Chinamen with a slick line of patter. Mostly old-line smokestack outfits with union workforces. But access to the Chinese market in any substantive way is never going to be granted to foreigners. And, as things go to pot in China, even the supposedly rich Chinese market is going to lose a lot of its phoney luster. The easy women of the U.S. corporate landscape are going to have to find some new sugar daddy to follow. Or, like a lot already have, go broke, disappear and be replaced.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    I hope you’re right. I have my doubts.

  • Saturn1300

    Yes. But that is not the question. They used non aircraft material the report says. Is NASA the one that says OK? Or is it FAA? If NASA is the one then and NASA okayed it, then if that caused the failure, it is NASAs’ fault I think a judge might say. Or it is SpaceX and NASAs’ fault for not stopping it if they knew about it. The report said insist on using these parts. If they found out this after the fact, then SpaceX is to blame.

  • Saturn1300

    I disagree. I think my interests are great as are my posts.

  • duheagle

    There being no such thing as “aircraft material” permit me to doubt the report said any such thing. There are a number of bodies that define and certify metallurgy including SAE and ASTM. The same is true for fasteners and fastener-adjacent parts made from such materials.

    The FAA has no jurisdiction over construction of spacecraft. NASA gets to observe engineering and production of commercial cargo and crew vehicles and their launchers to a fairly considerable extent, but it has no veto authority over decisions made, especially about material and parts sourcing. FAR regulations don’t apply.

    Bottom line for CRS-7 is SpaceX bought some bad parts and was insufficiently paranoid about their provenance. That’s the same problem Orbital Sciences had with bad aluminum extrusions that caused the failures of two NASA missions a number of years ago. I suspect the current incarnations of both companies are a good bit less trusting of paperwork certifications than they used to be.

  • duheagle

    Well of course you do. Pretty obviously, though, not everyone else here agrees.

    When you’re done blaming the victim for the CRS-7 accident could you perhaps favor us with some new bunny stories?

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    Activation == Pressurization. Dracos use the same fuel but a lower pressure system. Two plumbing systems are connected together but not the same.

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    You realize everyone here read that when it came out….

  • publiusr

    Shh, Jason Momoa might hear you.

  • publiusr

    The LEM tanks were even more thin than on Dragon–but the vibration didn’t seem to bother it. I think it might be from the tanks being too far outboard–closer to external heating? Who knows.

    Do the same test on another article–but with something that causes less of an explosion–but more a dye release, or something.

  • publiusr

    Now, wasn’t there some talk about icing in the nearly empty Apollo 11 LEM–an ice plug formed after landing and pressure built up?

    If you evacuate things too fast down here where it is humid….

  • duheagle

    Drogo, not Drago.

  • duheagle

    Hadn’t ever heard about that. Link?

  • publiusr

    I heard that on Coast-to-Coast AM this past Sunday night-Monday morning (I know what your are thinking)

    The guest was Rod Pyle however, of AD ASTRA.
    https://www.coasttocoastam.com/show/2019/05/05

    Every once in awhile they will have Zubrin or Shostak.