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Still Waters

SpaceX capsule suffers 'anomaly' during tests

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Still Waters

SpaceX has confirmed that its Crew Dragon capsule suffered an "anomaly" during routine engine tests in Florida.

A US Air Force spokesperson told local press the incident, at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, had been contained and no-one had been injured.

An unmanned Crew Dragon successfully flew for the first time last month.

This latest incident, however, could delay plans to launch a manned mission to the International Space Station later this year.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-48001382

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OverSword

Bummer 

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esoteric_toad

By anomaly they mean, it exploded.

It happens though, that is what testing is for. Better to have an anomaly now when it is on the ground with no one in it than later.

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fred_mc
1 hour ago, esoteric_toad said:

By anomaly they mean, it exploded.

It happens though, that is what testing is for. Better to have an anomaly now when it is on the ground with no one in it than later.

Yes, in contrast to Star Trek where "anomaly" means something very exciting and interesting :-) .

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Waspie_Dwarf
2 hours ago, esoteric_toad said:

It happens though, that is what testing is for.

That is true, however there shouldn't be catastrophic failures this late in development.

The capsule that was destroyed was the one that flew the uncrewed mission to the ISS last month. It was due to make another flight soon. It was the capsule that was supposed to prove that the abort system works. It's next mission was to simulate an abort from a Falcon 9 in flight. It was the very engines that were to be tested that exploded. The capsule was destroyed, if this happened with astronauts aboard they would have been killed.

There is absolutely no way that the Crew Dragon can now make it's first crewed flight in July as planned.

With Boeing's rival programme, the CST-100 Starliner as suffering delays NASA may have to go back to the Russians to buy more seats on Soyuz missions.

There could also be political implications. The Russian space agency already has doubts about Crew Dragon. In order to maintain correct crew rotations Russian cosmonauts will need to launch on U.S. vehicles and vice versa. If the Russians refuse to launch their cosmonauts on SpaceX's craft it will have severe implications for the ISS.

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cyclopes500

It wouldn't be industrial sabotage done on behalf of Boeing would it?

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BorizBadinov
2 hours ago, Waspie_Dwarf said:

That is true, however there shouldn't be catastrophic failures this late in development.

Sadly with mechanical things not every failure can be detected or avoided prematurely no matter how many checks are in place.

Catastrophic failures seem to happen at all stages from new design to retirement stage. Sometimes negligence or complacency, sometimes quality, sometimes structural fatigue. Hopefully they are a rarity and not the norm. This one does sting though, but much better now than later.

Hopefully they can learn from it at least.

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esoteric_toad

How many test flights did the Apollo crew capsule undergo?

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Waspie_Dwarf
16 hours ago, esoteric_toad said:

How many test flights did the Apollo crew capsule undergo?

It had two suborbital and two-orbital unscrewed flights before the first crewed Earth orbital flight of Apollo 7.The fatal Apollo 1 fire occurred after the two suborbital, but before the orbital flights.

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Waspie_Dwarf
18 hours ago, BorizBadinov said:

Catastrophic failures seem to happen at all stages from new design to retirement stage. Sometimes negligence or complacency, sometimes quality, sometimes structural fatigue. Hopefully they are a rarity and not the norm.

Absolutely, the two shuttle accident showed that spaceflight is dangerous, even on an operational spacecraft.

Structural fatigue should not be an issue, this was a new spacecraft that had made only one flight, and the SuperDraco's were not used on that flight. As an early test vehicle quality should also not be an issue. That would seem to leave human error or a major design fault.

Human error would be the best outcome for SpaceX as it can be much more easily rectified. This is particularly true if that error is specific to the ground test, as it would not impact on an orbital flight.

If it is a major design issue then this could lead to a much longer delay to the first crewed launch of the first Crew Dragon.

The Max-Q test, that this capsule was going to carry out before the first crewed mission, is not actually specified by NASA as compulsory (Boeing are not doing a comparable test of the CST-100 Starliner) however it is difficult to see how SpaceX could omit it now in light of this accident.

The Falcon 9 does not have the greatest safety record of current launch vehicles (although it has improved of late). NASA has already changed on of their long standing safety rules in order to accommodate SpaceX. NASA used to forbid unnecessary personnel (including astronauts) from being on the pad during fuelling of the launch vehicle. The Falcon 9 needs to be fuelled just before launch... after the astronauts are already onboard. NASA agreed to this because the SuperDraco's could operate quickly enough to take the astronauts to safety in the event of a fuelling accident. If those SuperDraco's are unreliable the entire philosophy around using the Crew Dragon/Falcon 9 combination must be in question.

Previous vehicles which have a launch escape system, which pulls the entire capsule away from the launch vehicle in the event of a failure (Mercury, Apollo and Soyuz) have used an escape tower, as will Orion. The escape towers are jettisoned before the vehicle reaches orbit. Crew Dragon's SuperDraco's are attached to the capsule itself and are intended to be reusable.This means that the SuperDraco's will be attached to the ISS for 6 months or more. I would think that SpaceX now need to prove to NASA (and the other ISS international partners) that the SuperDraco's pose no threat to the station whilst it is docked.

The SuperDraco's were originally intended to be the landing engines for the Crew Dragon (and newer version of the uncrewed Dragon). Rather than splashing down at sea, as will now happen, the Dragon was supposed to make a gentle touch down on land under rocket power, SpaceX abandoned this idea in 2017 as they didn't feel that they could meet NASA's safety standards with this technique. This also lead to the abandonment of the Red Dragon project to use a Falcon Heavy to send an uncrewed Dragon to land on Mars.

It is worth noting that SpaceX are not alone here. Boeing is developing a similar "pusher" launch escape system for its Starliner. A test of on of these engines ended in an anomaly in July last year. However that was a far less spectacular failure, the engine suffered a premature shut down followed by a fuel leak. As there are 4 such engines on the Starliner I believe that it would have been a survivable incident for a crew, as long as it was only a single engine that failed.

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BorizBadinov

@Waspie_Dwarf thank you for the informative reply, it was quite an interesting read.

I agree structural fatigue should not have been an issue in this case unless the design incorporated some new material or technique that degraded rapidly. Temperature extremes can cause this in certain materials but most of that data should be well understood.

From what I can gather it sounds like a similar leak issue potentially since the explosion was allegedly pre-ignition. It's been implied that since it was a ground based test that there was extra data collection instrumentation so I am hopeful SpaceX engineers can pinpoint the issue quickly. 

It would be surprising to me that any significant leak would go unnoticed given the extra instrumentation but of course I can't say what all was being monitored or how.

I also can't help but consider sabotage given the recent industrial sabotage  issue at Tesla and Elon's controversial nature. As well as the huge amount of money poured into these projects and the potential contracts, as well as other nations in competition. That would be the saddest outcome of all in my opinion. 

It is a bit troubling that SpaceX was having issue meeting safety standards. Gov standards can sometimes be a bit unrealistic if usually well intentioned. I wonder if some more protocals like the fueling time were out of sync with SpaceX process as opposed to cutting corners. Or perhaps the innovative nature of the company is pushing the flashy tech a bit too fast to be reliable while shooting for reusability to keep costs in check. Parachutes and water landing do have a pretty successful track record as far as safety and ground landings have little margin for error.

Whatever the outcome it was a significant blow to the program schedule as you stated. It would be even more tragic should the whole combined system prove unsafe. That could be a game ender for SpaceX I imagine. 

 

 

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