Crew capsule destroyed in April test accident: SpaceX

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Hans Koenigsmann, vice president of build and flight reliability at SpaceX, said at a NASA briefing about the upcoming launch of a cargo Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station that the anomaly took place just before the ignition of the SuperDraco thrusters on the spacecraft during an April 20 test at the company's Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. NASA said six Expedition 59 crew members, including three NASA astronauts, were never in danger.

The news conference was called ahead of Friday's scheduled launch of an unmanned resupply mission to the worldwide space station using a cargo-only capsule built by SpaceX, the private rocket venture of billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk.

"That is why we test", he said.

In the event weather conditions stop the Falcon 9 from taking off today, SpaceX has pencilled in a backup launch window on Saturday, May at 7.48am BST or 2.48am EDT.

Grainy video of the incident followed, however, showing what appeared to be chunks of debris left strewn, smoking, on the ground.

The SuperDraco thrusters are created to let the Dragon spacecraft land with pinpoint accuracy. They rely on a storable propellant, meant to be left in place for weeks or months, unlike the regular, cryogenically-maintained rocket fuel.

"Finishing the investigation and resolving this anomaly is actually our prime focus, certainly for me, right now", he said.

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"Just prior, before we wanted to fire the SuperDraco, there was an anomaly and the vehicle was destroyed", Koenigsmann said on Thursday.

It wasn't the first outing for that particular capsule, either.

Boeing also is building commercial crew ships under contract to NASA with an initial piloted flight to the space station expected late this year or early next year. The Draco engines that help the vehicle maneuver in space were fired in two sets, each time for five seconds and each time successfully.

Koenigsmann also confirmed, as had been suspected by observers, that the explosion happened Saturday during activation of the spacecraft's SuperDraco thrusters, which are used to land the craft as part of a launch escape system. "We were able to get our arms around the common areas that we had to look at, that they had to look at", he said. Tucked inside the Dragon cargo hold are four different varieties: a lung and bone marrow chip, a cartilage and bone chip, a chip that simulates the blood-brain barrier, and one that cultivates kidney cells.

SpaceX has delayed a supply run to the International Space Station, back to full power after quick repairs.

SpaceX said: "The Dragon spacecraft that will support the CRS-17 mission previously supported the CRS-12 mission in August 2017".

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