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NASA's security panel offers more details on Dragon anomaly, urging patience

Enlarge / SpaceX's Crew Dragon is approaching the International Space Station in March 2019.NASA Then issued a short statement Saturday after a test of its Crew Dragon vehicle resulted in an "anomaly", SpaceX has not offered further comment on its ongoing investigation. NASA has not said much outside saying that it is through the investigation and that the agency has "full confidence in SpaceX" to understand and address the problem that appears to have destroyed the crew capsule. [19659005] A previously scheduled meeting in NASA's Security Advisory Panel on Thursday, however, offered a little more insight into the problem that arose with the Crew Dragon vehicle at SpaceX's Landing Zone 1 facility in Florida, near the company's two launch sites there. "The incident occurred during a static fire test conducted before the interrupt test during the flight," said Patricia Sanders, chairman of the panel charged with ensuring that NASA has a healthy safety culture and mitigates risks where possible during the space flight. 19659005] The Crew Dragon capsule in question is the same one that successfully flew a demonstration mission to the International Space Station in March. On Saturday, the spacecraft was prepared for a launch break this summer. During the abortion flight, the dragon would have launched from Florida on a Falcon 9 booster and then fired its powerful SuperDraco engines to show that the dragon could withdraw safely from the rocket in the event of a booster problem before or during the flight. "The launch was designed to…

 SpaceX's Crew Dragon is approaching the International Space Station in March 2019.

Enlarge / SpaceX’s Crew Dragon is approaching the International Space Station in March 2019.

NASA

Then issued a short statement Saturday after a test of its Crew Dragon vehicle resulted in an “anomaly”, SpaceX has not offered further comment on its ongoing investigation. NASA has not said much outside saying that it is through the investigation and that the agency has “full confidence in SpaceX” to understand and address the problem that appears to have destroyed the crew capsule. [19659005] A previously scheduled meeting in NASA’s Security Advisory Panel on Thursday, however, offered a little more insight into the problem that arose with the Crew Dragon vehicle at SpaceX’s Landing Zone 1 facility in Florida, near the company’s two launch sites there.

“The incident occurred during a static fire test conducted before the interrupt test during the flight,” said Patricia Sanders, chairman of the panel charged with ensuring that NASA has a healthy safety culture and mitigates risks where possible during the space flight. 19659005] The Crew Dragon capsule in question is the same one that successfully flew a demonstration mission to the International Space Station in March. On Saturday, the spacecraft was prepared for a launch break this summer. During the abortion flight, the dragon would have launched from Florida on a Falcon 9 booster and then fired its powerful SuperDraco engines to show that the dragon could withdraw safely from the rocket in the event of a booster problem before or during the flight.

“The launch was designed to show integrated SuperDraco performance systems in twice vibro-acoustic-like vehicle levels for abortion environments,” Sanders said. Here Sanders explains that the test simulated the Falcon 9 rocket during the spacecraft that breaks down and triggers interruptions.

“Celebration of 12 service sections Dracos was successfully completed,” she said, noting that the 12 smaller Draco engines were used for space maneuvering normally. “Celebration of eight SuperDracos resulted in an anomaly,” Sanders concluded. This suggests anomaly that occurred during or shortly after the SuperDraco test. Sanders also noted that SpaceX followed all the safety protocols for the test and that no one was injured.

Later in the meeting, another member of the security panel, former astronaut Sandy Magnus, said she understood the public’s desire to know more about accident. Some people, including the editorial staff of Orlando Sentinel, have requested that more information be released immediately.

But SpaceX and NASA should be given more time to investigate the accident, Magnus said. “We know there is a lot of interest in the latest space accident,” she said. “We are patient.” Currently, the investigation remains in the phase of securing the accident site, collecting data and developing a timeline for the deviation to begin the process of pinching a cause.

Both NASA and the security panel said it is too early to judge how this setback will affect the schedule of SpaceX’s planned flight abortion test and the first Dragon crew system. The agency had been working against an aircraft in early October, but it now seems likely to be driven back to early 2020.

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