SpaceX thinks it might know what induced its new Crew Dragon spaceship to explode during a test on April 20.
The capsule-like ship is designed to ferry NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station, but first, it has to pass a series of significant tests.
In April, SpaceX conducted an uncrewed ground test that was a heat-up to an in-flight abort test on a rocket. The abort takes a look at is designed to prove the spaceship’s escape thrusters can whisk astronauts to safety (in case there’s a problem with a rocket).
But instead of showing that the escape thrusters operated usually, the procedure sent clouds of noxious pink smoke billowing into the air above Cape Canaveral, Florida.
SpaceX called the incident an “anomaly” on the day it happened, and a video leaked the next day appeared to show the Crew Dragon blowing up on its take a look at stand. In May, Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX’s VP of mission assurance, confirmed that the take a look at had indeed destroyed the company’s ship.
Now, practically three months after the accidental blast, Koenigsmann said that investigators are about “80% achieved” with their work and believe they’ve discovered what went wrong. “We know that we had a leaky component on the system,” Koenigsmann advised reporters during a teleconference on Monday. This “caused a violent reaction” once the escape system was activated, he added.
Kathy Lueders of NASA also joined Monday’s press call. She manages the agency’s Commercial Crew Program, through which SpaceX is being paid to develop, build, and test Crew Dragon.
“In a lot of methods, this was a present for us, as a result of it was a test on the ground,” Lueders said. “We could find a problem with the hardware, and be able to find the hardware, and be able to assess the hardware.”