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SpaceX Crew Capsule 'Destroyed' During Testing, Cargo Version Go For Launch

SpaceX's DM-1 Crew Dragon capsule (right) ahead of a test mission to the International Space Station. Photo: Brendan Byrne / WMFE
SpaceX's DM-1 Crew Dragon capsule (right) ahead of a test mission to the International Space Station. Photo: Brendan Byrne / WMFE

SpaceX has confirmed its crew dragon capsule was destroyed during an engine test last month. The company released more details about the mishap during a press conference Thursday ahead of a NASA mission to resupply the International Space Station.

SpaceX said it was testing the abort motors on the Crew Capsule, but something went wrong and the vehicle was 'destroyed.'

The company is working to figure out why. SpaceX's Hans Koenigsmann said the anomaly occurred after a successful test of the capsule's Draco engines which are used to maneuver the vehicle in space. The testing anomaly occurred just seconds before firing the capsule's Super Draco engines which are used to push the capsule away from the rocket booster during an emergency. The investigation is ongoing.

The capsule was slated for use in an upcoming in-flight abort test -- a critical milestone demonstration of the capsule's safety system. SpaceX was planning on flying a crew of NASA astronauts later this year.

Koenigsmann said it’s unclear just how the accident will affect the schedule. "It depends on what we find and what shapes the schedule ahead of time. I hope this is a relatively swift investigation at the end of the day.”

SpaceX is prepping for the launch of a cargo version of the capsule from Cape Canaveral to the International Space Station carrying supplies and science for the orbiting outposts.

A power outage on the station this week delayed earlier launch attempts. ISS manager Kenny Todd said the robotics team fixed the issue early Thursday.

"About 5 a.m. this morning Florida time, I got the thumbs up things were in good shape and we’re back to having good redundancy from a power-standpoint so that puts us in a good position and puts us ready to go and do this mission," he said during a NASA mission briefing at Kennedy Space Center. There was no danger to the crew during the outage. 

SpaceX's Koenigsmann said the cargo version of the capsule lacks the Super Draco thrusters, so there’s no safety concern launching the capsule and supplies to the station.

NASA and SpaceX are targeting a launch Friday at 3:11 a.m. from Cape Canaveral. Once launched, it will take about three days to arrive.

The space agency pays private companies like SpaceX to ship supplies to the station.

Brendan covers space news for WMFE, everything from rocket launches to the latest scientific discoveries in our universe. He hosts WMFE's weekly radio show and podcast "Are We There Yet?" which explores human space exploration.