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SpaceX's Crew Dragon accident could delay first crewed flight to the space station

Eyewitness photos showed plumes of smoke coming from the site, but no injuries were reported.
Image: he uncrewed SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft is the first Commercial Crew vehicle to visit the International Space Station. Here it is pictured with its nose cone open revealing its docking mechanism while approaching the station's Harmony module on M
The uncrewed SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule flew to the International Space Station in March 2019.NASA

Less than two weeks after SpaceX triumphantly launched its huge Falcon Heavy rocket on its first commercial flight, the company suffered a setback when its Crew Dragon capsule was hit by an “anomaly” during testing that could force the postponement of the capsule’s first crewed flight to the International Space Station.

No injuries were reported in the incident, which occurred during an uncrewed engine test at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Photos taken by eyewitnesses showed plumes of smoke coming from the site.

“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,” SpaceX officials said Saturday in a statement to Florida Today, a newspaper based in central Florida. “The initial tests completed successfully but the final test resulted in an anomaly on the test stand.”

The company didn’t provide details about the anomaly but said it had begun an investigation. In a statement released Saturday, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said the agency was working with SpaceX to assess the incident. "This is why we test,” he said. “We will learn, make the necessary adjustments and safely move forward with our Commercial Crew Program.”

SpaceX launched the Crew Dragon capsule on its first uncrewed test flight to the space station March 2. The spacecraft spent almost a week attached to the orbiting outpost before returning to Earth and splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Florida.

The company is expected to conduct one more uncrewed flight of the capsule to test the spacecraft’s emergency abort system. After that, NASA could authorize the first Crew Dragon flight to the space station with two astronauts onboard. Neither SpaceX nor NASA has announced the dates for these upcoming flights or said how they could be affected by the recent accident.

The Crew Dragon is one of two new commercially built capsules designed to ferry astronauts to and from the space station — and end NASA’s long reliance on Russian spacecraft. Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner capsule, which has been plagued by delays, is expected to conduct its first uncrewed test flight in August.

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