SpaceX enjoys test-fire success – months after launchpad explosion

SpaceX has finally successfully completed a static test fire of its Crew Dragon spacecraft, following an explosive failure earlier this year.

The Crew Dragon is intended to fly astronauts to the International Space Station, but “a series of engine tests” in Cape Canaveral, Florida, earlier this year threatened those ambitions.

“The initial tests completed successfully but the final test resulted in an anomaly on the test stand,” was the company’s statement at the time, after a leaked video appeared to show the spacecraft exploding in flames.

SpaceX's Dragon capsule appeared to explode in a video. Pic: @Astronut099
Image: SpaceX’s Dragon capsule appeared to explode in a video. Pic: @Astronut099

A subsequent joint investigation between SpaceX and NASA revealed that a titanium fire was the probable cause of the explosion.

It was a terrifying moment for the engineers involved in designing the capsule, which is meant to safely carry human passengers in space.

The problem did not reoccur during the test on Wednesday, which comes ahead of another test of the spacecraft’s in-flight launch escape systems.

The engine tests began with two burns, for a duration of one second each, for two of the Crew Dragon’s six Draco thrusters which are used for manoeuvring and direction control.

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Following the tests of the Draco thrusters, the team then completed a nine-second test fire of the Crew Dragon’s SuperDraco engines, which are designed to accelerate the spacecraft away from its rocket booster in case of an emergency after liftoff.

“In April, during a similar set of engine tests, the spacecraft experienced an anomaly which led to an explosion and loss of the vehicle,” NASA said.

“In the following months, an Anomaly Investigation Team made up of SpaceX and NASA personnel determined that a slug of liquid propellant in the high-flow helium pressurization system unexpectedly caused a titanium ignition event resulting in an explosion.

“Based on that investigation’s findings and months of testing, SpaceX redesigned components of the system to eliminate the possibility of slugs entering the high-flow pressurization system.”

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