SpaceX confirms its Dragon crew capsule exploded in testing

For the first time after a video of an exploding Dragon capsule leaked in late April, SpaceX confirmed the spacecraft’s destruction during testing. In statements made today, SpaceX’s vice president of mission assurance Hans Koenigsmann provided a little insight on the mysterious ground test gone wrong.

As CNBC reports, Koenigsmann said during a press event that it is “too early” to determine the cause but noted that the capsule exploded as its SuperDraco thruster system was being fired up:

At the test stand we powered up Dragon and it powered up as expected. We completed tests with the Draco thrusters – the Draco thrusters are the smaller thrusters that are also on Dragon 1, the Cargo Dragon. We fired them in two sets, each for five seconds, and that went very well. And just prior before we wanted to fire the SuperDraco there was an anomaly and the vehicle was destroyed.

The capsule shown in a grainy video from April 21 turns out to be the same test spacecraft that visited the International Space Station in early March and returned to Earth via a splashdown in the Atlantic six days later. Unlike the company’s cargo capsules, that capsule, known as SpaceX Demo-1, is designed to carry crew members in the future.

Even during testing, the loss of any spacecraft — particularly one designed to carry a human crew — is a big deal. The event is likely to push SpaceX’s target launch for a crewed Dragon flight this year into 2020. NASA is currently working with the company to investigate the incident.

“I hope this is a relatively swift investigation at the end of the day,” Koenigsmann said.  “I don’t want to completely preclude the current schedule, but certainly this is not good news for the schedule.”