SpaceX Suffers an Accident During Ground Test of Crew Dragon Astronaut Capsule

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk discusses U.S. space operations with Royal Canadian Air Force Lieutenant General Christopher Coates, the North American Aerospace Defense Command Deputy Commander and U.S. Air Force General Terrence O’Shaughnessy, the Commander of NORAD and U.S. Northern Command, April 15, 2019. During Musk’s visit to Colorado Springs, Colorado, he participated in conversations and round table briefings about future space operations and homeland defense innovation. (Courtesy Photo)
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk discusses U.S. space operations with Royal Canadian Air Force Lieutenant General Christopher Coates, the North American Aerospace Defense Command Deputy Commander and U.S. Air Force General Terrence O’Shaughnessy, the Commander of NORAD and U.S. Northern Command, April 15, 2019. During Musk’s visit to Colorado Springs, Colorado, he participated in conversations and round table briefings about future space operations and homeland defense innovation. (Courtesy Photo)

SpaceX suffered a setback Saturday when an accident of some kind sent a plume of orange smoke rising from the pad where its Crew Dragon astronaut capsule's escape system engines were being tested.

In a statement on Twitter, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said the anomaly happened during part of a static fire test of the Crew Dragon's SuperDraco engines at Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The SuperDraco engines power the capsule's launch abort system, which is designed to pull astronauts away from the rocket in the case of a catastrophic launch failure.

Bridenstine tweeted that NASA and SpaceX were "assessing the anomaly." The extent of damage was unclear from Bridenstine's statement. A U.S. Air Force spokesman told Florida Today that there were no injuries and that the anomaly was "contained."

SpaceX had been set to fly the capsule with a crew aboard on another test flight this year. It is unclear how Saturday's accident could affect that launch schedule.

"This is why we test," Bridenstine said in the Twitter statement. "We will learn, make the necessary adjustments and safely move forward with our Commercial Crew program."

SpaceX did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Times. But in a statement to trade publication SpaceNews, the Hawthorne space company said it had been conducting a series of engine tests on a Crew Dragon test capsule. While the initial tests were completed successfully, "the final test resulted in an anomaly on the test stand," the statement said.

A photo taken Saturday by Florida Today visual journalist Craig Bailey showed a plume of orange smoke rising above nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

SpaceX launched its Crew Dragon capsule for the first time in March on an uncrewed flight to the International Space Station. The capsule successfully docked with the station and then returned to Earth, buoyed by parachutes before landing in the Atlantic Ocean. 

This article is written by Samantha Masunaga from The Los Angeles Times and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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