In a series of engine tests on the SpaceX spacecraft Dragon last Saturday, the vehicle experienced what the company called "anomaly." Based on an unauthorized leaked video of the disaster, the company counted on a firing of the Dragon SuperDraco engines when the vehicle exploded. SpaceX did not validate the video, but is consistent with verbal reports of the error shared with Ars.
After the accident, huge dramatic orange clouds of smoke blew over "Landing Zone 1", where SpaceX tested the engine on Saturday. According to one source, the orange smoke plumes were the result of 1 to 2 tonnes of nitrogen tetroxide – the oxidant used by Dragon's SuperDraco engines – that burned on site. After a dramatic weekend comes a summary of what we know, what we do not know, and where SpaceX is headed from here.
What was destroyed?
The Crew Dragon Capsule is the same as this one successfully flew a demonstration mission to the International Space Station in March. The spaceship was prepared for a demolition test this summer. During this test, the Dragon would have been launched with a Falcon 9 booster from Florida and then fired with its powerful SuperDraco engines to show that the Dragon is safe from the missile in case of a problem with the booster before or during the flight can solve. 19659005] After SpaceX has lost this capsule, it must find a replacement for this launch abort test. It is not clear whether a SuperDraco system with eight thrusters will make a boiler vehicle or reuse one of the kites he has built for crew flights to the space station. In any case, this represents a significant loss of material for the company.
How did it happen?
We do not know. According to the leaked video, the anomaly occurred within the last 10 seconds of the countdown, and it is not clear whether the SuperDraco engines ignited. One source said that the company had a lot of data on the failure – this was a ground-based test, so the vehicle was heavily instrumented. Therefore, the search for the main cause of the accident should be more theoretical than if a problem had occurred during a flight. The best case of delaying SpaceX is that someone has mistreated the ground system equipment. The worst scenario is that the SuperDraco engines have some undiscovered but fundamental design issues.
In past accidents, the founder of SpaceX, Elon Musk, was quite open about the cause of the failures, and we hope that the accident will be similarly transparent. I would argue that because this vehicle will ultimately transport people and is largely funded by NASA, transparency for the public's confidence in the vehicle and its processes is essential.
Was someone injured?
Luckily no ]. The last time we saw this dramatic event of a ground-based spacecraft was during the Apollo 1 fire in 1967, which cost three lives. Fortunately, no one was harmed during the accident on Saturday. This speaks well for SpaceX's safety practices during such dynamic testing. Had people been injured or killed, this would undoubtedly have complicated the already complex road for SpaceX.
What does this mean for commercial crew flights?
NASA completed several million dollar contracts for SpaceX and Boeing in 2014 with the intention of bringing their Dragon and Starliner vehicles into service to bring US astronauts to the space station. Prior to this accident, SpaceX and NASA had concentrated in early October on the first crew of the Dragon crew to the station. Well, that will certainly be delayed by at least a few months until 2020. Before Saturday, Boeing's spaceship Starliner was behind Dragon in terms of development and is unlikely to fly humans before 2020.
NASA recently signed a contract with Russia to acquire two additional Soyuz seats for one crew member each, ensuring a US crew presence on the station by September 2020. The agency may now be forced to return to the Russians To get more seats by the end of 2020.
What is SpaceX doing now?
Undoubtedly, the company had a busy Easter weekend. The first step is to determine what happened and then work with NASA to fully understand the problem, and then find a solution to make sure the problem never comes back. Internally, the company's engineers may already know what happened.
I would also embrace NASA if I work in SpaceX management – and rely on the agency because of its experience with people's human space systems and how to cover itself against political fire. Following the failure of the Falcon 9 rocket launcher in 2015, which lost the CRS-7 service mission to the International Space Station (ISS), the agency assisted its commercial freight partner. NASA's NASA Space Spokesman William Gerstenmaier offered public support to the company, beating Congressional doubters and helping SpaceX fly fast again.
In recent years, some NASA critics have regarded the agency as "holding back" SpaceX during development of the Crew Dragon vehicle with unnecessary paperwork and demands. This may be true in part, but NASA is the customer, and obviously there are still dangers in the Dragon (and probably also in Starliner). The fact is that NASA needs SpaceX to be successful, so the company and the space agency are currently in a position where it is best for everyone to work side by side to identify and identify the problem remedy. and go on.
There is a precedent for this. After the Apollo-1 fire revealed several issues with the first version of the spacecraft, NASA worked closely with the Apollo Capsule contractor, North America Aviation (now part of Boeing), to design a much safer capsule design to accelerate. The fire occurred in January 1967, and the updated Apollo capsule "Block II" made its first space flight less than 21 months later. The design would entail a historic sequence of lunar missions.
Do not disregard SpaceX
it would be easy to write off SpaceX as a reckless company. The reality, however, is that this is a company that moves quickly in many different directions. He builds the world's largest rocket launcher (Falcon Heavy), perfects first-stage reuse, launches more rockets than any other company, and seeks to regain payload fairings. and the construction of an unprecedented next-generation vehicle called Starship.
This crash should give SpaceX and Musk an enlightening moment, namely that they really have to get the Crew's crew right – and that the humans are in a Dragon spaceship with a Falcon 9 rocket increases the stakes. That's not easy , It's very hard.
There should be little doubt that the company can come back from it. SpaceX has shown a tendency to respond quickly to errors and fix problems. After the failure of CRS-7 in 2015, they flew again half a year later. Remarkably, the return to the mission was also the first successful landing on Falcon 9.
Following the failure of the Amos 6 launch pad in 2016, the company flew again 4.5 months later and has had the most successful run ever since. The company can get over this accident, but now that people are involved, it requires focus, transparency, and close collaboration with NASA to move forward.