Saturday during engine testingThe SpaceX Dragon spacecraft suffered an “anomaly” - as the company itself dubbed it. It is not clear how the leaked video of the incident captured the countdown followed by burning the engines SuperDraco and - boom, everything exploded. SpaceX does not recognize the accident and does not subscribe to the video, but unnamed sources report various details about the incident. Let's collect them.
After the accident, big beautiful orange cloudssmoke covered Landing Zone 1, where the engine tests were held Saturday. According to one source, the orange plumes were the result of burning one or two tons of nitrogen tetroxide, an oxidizer used in SuperDraco engines. What happened and what SpaceX will do now - read on.
What was destroyed?
Capsule Crew Dragon, which became the culpritcelebrations, the same one that flew in March as part of a demonstration mission to the International Space Station. The spacecraft was being prepared to conduct a launch cancellation test this summer. According to the plan, Dragon had to launch with a Falcon 9 rocket from Florida and then activate powerful SuperDraco engines to see if Dragon could safely break away from the rocket in case of problems with the launch vehicle before or during the flight.
Now that SpaceX has lost its capsule, shewill have to look for a replacement for this launch cancellation test. It is unclear whether she will assemble a typical engine with a system of eight SuperDraco engines or will remake one of the Dragon she built for manned flights to the space station. In any case, this is a significant material loss for the company.
How did this happen?
Nobody knows. On the merged video anomaly occurs in the last 10 seconds of reference, and it is unclear whether SuperDraco engines started to work or not. One of the sources said that the company received a lot of data about the problem - it was a ground test, so the device was perfectly equipped with tools - so it would theoretically be easier to find the root of the problem than if the problem arose during a real flight. In the best scenario, which does not entail a delay for SpaceX, someone just incorrectly assembled the equipment for ground testing. In the worst case, there is a fundamental problem in the design of SuperDraco engines.
During previous accidents, Ilon Musk is pretty honest.told the reasons for the failures, and many hope that this time it will also be transparent and open. In the end, this device will be lucky people into space, which means that everything that happens to it should interest people and will be important for the company's progress.
Has anyone suffered?
Fortunately, no. The last time we saw a ground vehicle failure was in 1967, when three people were killed in the burning Apollo 1. Fortunately, no one was hurt this time, which once again speaks of SpaceX's precautionary measures during such dynamic tests. If people had suffered or died, it would have complicated SpaceX's path.
What does this mean for commercial crew flights?
NASA has secured contracts for many billionsSpaceX and Boeing dollars in 2014 with the intention to put the Dragon and Starliner vehicles into operation and deliver American astronauts to the space station. Before this accident, SpaceX and NASA had planned to launch the first manned Dragon in early October. Now, the launch will almost certainly be postponed for several months, until 2020. Until Saturday, Starliner lagged behind the Dragon in development, so to speak, and would hardly have brought people into space until 2020.
NASA recently signed an agreement with Russia onacquiring two additional seats in the Soyuz, one crew member each, which will ensure the presence of the US crew at the station until September 2020. Now the agency may be forced to return to the services of Russia and buy seats until the end of 2020.
What is SpaceX doing now?
Undoubtedly, the company had boisterous Easterweekends. The first step is to determine what happened, and then work with NASA to fully understand the problem. After that, you will need to develop a solution so that the problem never repeats. Perhaps the company's engineers already know what happened.
Also SpaceX need to rely on NASA - to leanon his experience in the field of systems for manned flights, as well as ask to cover from political fire. After the unsuccessful launch of the Falcon 9 rocket in 2015, when the mission of replenishment of stocks of the CRS-7 was lost, the agency supported its commercial partner. NASA's head of space flight, William Gerstenmayer, offered public support for the company, discouraged congressmen from doubts and helped SpaceX return to flying very quickly.
In recent years, some critics of NASAconsidered the agency as “delaying” SpaceX during the development of Crew Dragon due to unnecessary bureaucracy and requirements. This may be true - in part, but NASA is a client, and there are still malfunctions in the Dragon (and Starliner, too, probably). The fact that NASA needs SpaceX and that the company and the agency are looking for points of contact that are convenient for everyone means that they will work side by side.
And there is a precedent. After the Apollo 1 fire revealed numerous problems with the first version of the spacecraft, NASA worked closely with North America Aviation, the then contractor, and a more secure capsule design was created. Perhaps this was the key to the success of the lunar mission.
Do not discount SpaceX
It would be easy to write off SpaceX, dubbing the company.reckless. But the reality is that it quickly works in various directions - it builds the first largest reusable rocket in the world (Falcon Heavy), improves first-stage reuse, launches more rockets than any other company, builds unprecedented new-generation vehicles - Starship.
This case shows that space is verydifficult. Especially when people want it. But no one doubts that the company will recover and return to its business. SpaceX has shown that it reacts quickly to failures and makes decisions.
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