Four pairs of SuperDraco engines power the Crew Dragon spacecraft’s escape system. [credit:
Following a successful demonstration mission of its Crew Dragon spacecraft in March, SpaceX has been preparing that vehicle for a critical launch abort test this summer. During this upcoming test flight, the Dragon will launch from Florida on a Falcon 9 booster before firing its powerful SuperDraco engines to show that the spacecraft can pull itself safely away from the rocket in case of a problem with the booster.
On Saturday, as part of preparations for this abort test, the company experienced some sort of anomaly. According to a company spokesperson: “Earlier today, SpaceX conducted a series of engine tests on a Crew Dragon test vehicle on our test stand at Landing Zone 1 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The initial tests completed successfully but the final test resulted in an anomaly on the test stand. Ensuring that our systems meet rigorous safety standards and detecting anomalies like this prior to flight are the main reasons why we test. Our teams are investigating and working closely with our NASA partners.”
It is not immediately clear how significantly this incident will affect SpaceX as it works toward Dragon’s first crewed mission, which will carry astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken to the International Space Station. Previously, sources have said that flight could occur by about October under ideal conditions. If the problems were serious, Saturday’s accident may substantially delay this schedule—although in the past SpaceX has shown a propensity to rapidly diagnose failures and return to flight quickly, with just 4.5 months of downtime after a rocket failure in September 2016.