WASHINGTON – More than a month after Crew Dragon's spaceship was destroyed in a test of its propulsion system, NASA and SpaceX investigators are still working to determine the cause of the accident and its impact on upcoming test flights.
NASA's Commercial Occupation Program Manager Kathy Lueders presented some information on the state of the incident investigation on May 20 at a Cape Canaveral Air Force SpaceX station to the NASA Advisory Committee on Exploration and Operations April station in Florida.
During this incident, SpaceX tested both the Draco engines and larger SuperDraco demolition engines to prepare a capsule crash test during the flight, which was scheduled for late June. "There was an anomaly during the activation of the SuperDraco system," she said, but did not provide details of the cause of the anomaly.
Lueders praised SpaceX for handling the accident and ongoing investigations. "I'll tell you that the team did a great job," she said of the reaction. "The team followed the mishap program very well. All notifications were made. The SpaceX people have done a tremendous job.
It also stated that NASA was kept abreast of the accident and investigation, including the NASA personnel who were in the SpaceX control room at the time of the accident. A NASA team, she added, is embedded in SpaceX to help with the investigation, such as collecting all the data from the incident. SpaceX, however, leads the investigation.
The capsule destroyed in the test was the one that flew to the International Space Station on the Demo-1 test flight in March. SpaceX planned to use this capsule for the crash test during the flight this summer.
After this capsule had been destroyed, Lueders said that SpaceX will use the Crew Dragon Crewcraft, which was originally intended for the test during the flight with the demo-2 crew, for demolition during the flight test. Instead, the Demo 2 mission will use the spacecraft that SpaceX built for the first operational mission called Crew-1.
Given the ongoing investigation, Lueders gave the data of the demolition test during the flight and the demo 2 mission to be known. Assembly of the demo-2 capsule will continue even though the workers keep the vehicle's propulsion system open in case they need to make changes as a result of the investigation. "They are making progress in many other areas as they try to provide access to the systems that may need modification, especially in the prop area," she said.
She gave no indication when this investigation will be completed. "They are not pushing your anomaly investigation team too fast," she said, stressing the importance of being "methodical" as they work through all parts of the fault tree of potential causes.
Later in the session, a committee member Lueders asked if Demo-2 could still fly this year. "They'll finish their vehicle by the end of the year," she told SpaceX. "We have to stop the investigation of anomalies. That's the big deal.
The accident, she said, was a kind of "gift" to the program as it took place on a test stand, giving them the opportunity to understand what might need to be changed. Sometimes we learn more from such a mistake. "
" It's pretty sad not to have this vehicle, "she added. "I was hoping the vehicle would one day be in a museum. But I think this is a vehicle that continues to serve its purpose of making manned space travel safer and safer. We will learn from this test and this learning will be applied to the next vehicle. "