SpaceX Crew Dragon Capsule Launch Experiences Setbacks

However, the SpaceX Demo-2 mission was postponed for October, at the earliest. Right now, SpaceX is thinking of scheduling the demonstration flight …

Recently, Nasa published a blog post that led readers to believe the agency is going through some changes in the leadership department, within the Human Exploration and Operations Directorate, that might have a negative impact on the plans to return astronauts to the International Space Station. This is not the only setback that slows down the schedule of launching SpaceX Crew Dragon.

In the first instance, the demonstration flight meant to simulate the mission will carry astronauts Bob Nehnken and Doug Hurley to the ISS was supposed to take place this summer. However, the SpaceX Demo-2 mission was postponed for October, at the earliest. Right now, SpaceX is thinking of scheduling the demonstration flight no earlier than December. Both SpaceX and NASA believe that a Crew Dragon launch involves a set of preparations that cannot be carried out in a few months, so a 2019 launch seems impossible.

SpaceX Crew Dragon Capsule Launch Experiences Setbacks

Jim Bridenstine, the NASA Administrator, asked the Human Exploration and Operations Directorate to reevaluate the flight schedule once new leadership is established. He said: “It is very likely that these new schedule plans will push the Demo-2 launch target into 2020.” Another element that interferes with the timeline is the in-flight abort test that SpaceX needs to conduct to assure that the Crew Dragon capsule’s abort system is perfectly functional.

That is a crucial step since the original Crew Dragon capsule (C201) got destroyed during an earlier test. After the loss of C201, it was found that the SuperDraco thruster abort system was faulty and it needed to be replaced for all capsules currently in production at SpaceX. The launch date for the in-flight abort test is expected to be announced sometime this month.

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Emmy Skylar started working for Debate Report in 2017. Emmy grew up in a small town in northern Manitoba. But moved to Ontario for university. Before joining Debate Report, Emmy briefly worked as a freelance journalist for CBC News. She covers politics and the economy.

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Crew Dragon Exploded Back in April Because of a Nitrogen Tetroxide Leak

On Saturday, April 20th, 2019, an explosion took place on SpaceX’s Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The company was …

On Saturday, April 20th, 2019, an explosion took place on SpaceX’s Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The company was engaged in a series of static fire engine tests for their Crew Dragon‘s In-Flight Abort test vehicle. This vehicle is essential for crewed missions since it acts as a sort of ejection seat for the crew capsule in the event of an emergency.

While the initial tests of the twelve Draco thrusters on the vehicle were completed successfully, the initiation of the final test of eight SuperDraco thrusters resulted in the destruction of the vehicle. After a thorough investigation, SpaceX has concluded that the explosion was caused by a nitrogen tetroxide leak that occurred just prior to the final test.

Following the accident, and in accordance with pre-established safety protocols, the team worked with the US Air Force (USAF) to clear the test area of debris and collect and clean samples for the investigation. They monitored the local winds and other factors to make sure there was no threat to the health and safety of the public.

An instrumented mannequin (Ripley) inside the Crew Dragon spacecraft for the Demo-1 mission. (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX then convened an Accident Investigation Team that included officials from the NASA, and observers from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). Together, they developed a fault tree and began to systematically investigate the probable cause.

Their initial finds indicated that the anomaly occurred approximately 100 milliseconds prior to the ignition of the SuperDraco thrusters and during the pressurization of the vehicle’s propulsion systems. They also determined that a leaking component allowed nitrogen tetroxide (NTO) – a liquid oxidizer – to enter the capsule’s high-pressure helium tubes while it was still undergoing ground processing.

During the rapid initialization of the launch escape system, a slug of NTO was then driven through a helium check valve at high speed, resulting in structural failure within the check valve. To recreate the exact scenario, the accident investigation team used debris collected from the site (which identified where burning took place within the check valve) to conduct a series of tests the SpaceX rocket development facility in McGregor, Texas.

These tests bore out their initial findings and concluded that the failure of a titanium component in a high-pressure NTO environment was sufficient to cause an ignition in the check valve that led to the explosion. This type of reaction was not expected since titanium has been used in rocketry for decades by agencies all around the world.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the company’s Crew Dragon attached, rolls out of the company’s hangar at NASA Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A on Jan. 3, 2019. The rocket will undergo checkouts prior to the liftoff of Demo-1, the inaugural flight of one of the spacecraft designed to take NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station. NASA has worked with SpaceX and Boeing in developing Commercial Crew Program spacecraft to facilitate new human spaceflight systems launching from U.S. soil with the goal of safe, reliable and cost-effective access to low-Earth orbit destinations such as the space station. Image Credit: SpaceX
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the company’s Crew Dragon attached, rolls out of the company’s hangar at NASA Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A on Jan. 3, 2019. Credit: SpaceX

Nevertheless, the static fire test and anomaly provided a wealth of data. In addition, the SuperDraco thrusters were recovered from the test site intact, which is a testament to their reliability. As such, SpaceX fully intends to take the lessons learned here and use them to inform future missions, as well as further improvements in the safety and reliability of its flight vehicles.

Already, SpaceX has taken measures to ensure something like this doesn’t happen again. This includes eliminating any flow path within the launch escape system to ensure that liquid propellant cannot enter the gaseous pressurization system. They’ve also taken to using burnt disks instead of check valves, which remain completely sealed until opened by high pressure – instead of allowing liquid to flow in only one direction.

SpaceX has begun testing and analyzing these mitigation methods with NASA already and indicated that they will be completed well in advance of future flights. The company has also shifted spacecraft assignments forward to remain on track for Commercial Crew Program flights.

These include the second demonstration mission (Demo-2) to the ISS, which will be flown using the Crew Dragon originally intended to fly the first operational mission (Crew-1). It’s also worth noting that SpaceX’s facility at Cape Canaveral was operational in time for the launch of a Falcon Heavy rocket, as part of Space Test Program-2 (STP-2), and the landing of its two first-stage side boosters on June 25th, 2019.

Further Reading: SpaceX

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SpaceX finds surprising cause behind Crew Dragon explosion

On April 20, a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule unexpectedly exploded during a ground test at Cape Canaveral in Florida. After an investigation, NASA …
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The SpaceX Crew Dragon will head to the ISS on its first test flight.

NASA

On April 20, a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule unexpectedly exploded during a ground test at Cape Canaveral in Florida. After an investigation, NASA and SpaceX now say a leak led to a surprising chemical reaction that destroyed the spacecraft.

An accident investigation team involving SpaceX, NASA, the Federal Aviation Administration, US Air Force and National Transportation Safety Board collected debris from the explosion and the Dragon’s SuperDraco thrusters and transported it to the company’s development facility in McGregor, Texas, for testing.

On Monday, SpaceX released a statement outlining how a leak in the spacecraft’s pressurization system allowed a liquid oxidizer — nitrogen tetroxide, or NTO — to make contact with a titanium valve.

The resulting explosive reaction between the two substances was the subject of a leaked video of the Dragon’s final fiery moments that made headlines in late April.

“It is worth noting that the reaction between titanium and NTO at high pressure was not expected,” reads the company’s statement. “Titanium has been used safely over many decades and on many spacecraft from all around the world.”

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On a call with reporters, Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX’s vice president of mission assurance, emphasized that the problem was entirely within the pressurization system and not tied to any flaws in Crew Dragon’s engines. He said the company will be replacing the valves with burst disks that seal more completely to mitigate the risk.

Glen Meyerowitz, a former SpaceX engineer noted on Twitter that “this change to burst disks from check valves may decrease the reusability of the Crew Dragon spacecraft. Depending on how/where these burst disks are installed they may be extremely difficult to remove and replace after one ruptures.”

This change to burst disks from check valves may decrease the reusability of the Crew Dragon spacecraft. Depending on how/where these burst disks are installed they may be extremely difficult to remove and replace after one ruptures.

— Glen Meyerowitz (@GlenMeyerowitz) July 15, 2019

SpaceX didn’t immediately respond to a request for further comment.

Crew Dragon is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew program, which, along with Boeing’s Starliner, aims to return to using US-built craft to deliver astronauts to space, a task that has been outsourced to Russian spacecraft since the end of the Space Shuttle program. However, both American craft have run into problems during tests this year.

Crew Dragon previously made a successful uncrewed voyage to the International Space Station, but has yet to carry humans to space.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program manager Kathryn Lueders and Koenigsmann both said they are hopeful Crew Dragon will fly by the end of the year, but that more testing remains to be done.

Koenigsmann specifically noted that a flight in 2019 is possible but is also “increasingly difficult.”

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SpaceX pinpoints cause of Crew Dragon explosion; looks forward to ‘safer’ spacecraft

The cause of a SpaceX explosion that resulted in the destruction of a crew capsule and sent orange smoke into Space Coast skies has been …

Photos: SpaceX Crew Dragon anomaly at Cape Canaveral AFS

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Orange smoke is seen rising above SpaceX's facilities at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Saturday, April 20, 2019. The Air Force confirmed an anomaly occurred with the company's Crew Dragon capsule.

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Orange smoke is seen rising above SpaceX’s facilities at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Saturday, April 20, 2019. The Air Force confirmed an anomaly occurred with the company’s Crew Dragon capsule. Craig Bailey / FLORIDA TODAY
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Orange smoke is seen rising above SpaceX's facilities at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Saturday, April 20, 2019. The Air Force confirmed an anomaly occurred with the company's Crew Dragon capsule.

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Orange smoke is seen rising above SpaceX’s facilities at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Saturday, April 20, 2019. The Air Force confirmed an anomaly occurred with the company’s Crew Dragon capsule. Craig Bailey / FLORIDA TODAY
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Orange smoke is seen rising above SpaceX's facilities at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Saturday, April 20, 2019. The Air Force confirmed an anomaly occurred with the company's Crew Dragon capsule.

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Orange smoke is seen rising above SpaceX’s facilities at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Saturday, April 20, 2019. The Air Force confirmed an anomaly occurred with the company’s Crew Dragon capsule. Craig Bailey / FLORIDA TODAY
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The first SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule is seen at the International Space Station on Monday, March 4, 2019. It launched from Kennedy Space Center early March 2.

The first SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule is seen at the International Space Station on Monday, March 4, 2019. It launched from Kennedy Space Center early March 2. NASA

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The cause of a SpaceX explosion that resulted in the destruction of a crew capsule and sent orange smoke into Space Coast skies has been pinpointed, the spaceflight company confirmed Monday.

Just 100 milliseconds before an uncrewed Crew Dragon capsule fired its eight SuperDraco thrusters during a test at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on April 20, the capsule exploded, leaving Landing Zone 1 littered with fire, debris and chemicals. The cause, SpaceX said, was traced down in recent weeks to a reaction between a liquid oxidizer – nitrogen tetroxide, or NTO – and a titanium check valve, which caused an ignition and the subsequent explosion.

According to accident investigators, a component allowed nitrogen tetroxide to leak into the spacecraft’s pressurization system tubes well before testing began. When the pressurization system activated and attempted to simulate a firing of the SuperDraco thrusters, a “slug” of the NTO that had leaked into the tubes was blasted through at high speed, resulting in ignition with the titanium valve.

“This had nothing to do with SuperDraco,” said Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX’s vice president of build and flight reliability, on the capsule eventually tasked with taking astronauts to the International Space Station. “It was entirely the pressurization system that caused this.”

Crew Dragon’s SuperDraco thrusters are designed to act as a launch escape system. In the event of an emergency, such as a failing rocket, sensors along the vehicle notify the system that an abort is necessary. That’s when the SuperDraco thrusters would fire, rapidly propelling astronauts away from the rocket and upwards to safety before eventually splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean.

SuperDraco thrusters use a mix of NTO as an oxidizer and hydrazine as the fuel. When combined, the resulting mix is a hypergolic – or combusting during contact – propellant that provides powerful thrust.

SpaceX, Koenigsmann said, is mostly done with the investigation, but there are still some things that need to be better understood – such as more of the physics behind how the incident occurred.

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A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches the Crew Dragon spacecraft on a historic demonstration mission from Kennedy Space Center on Saturday, March 2, 2019. SpaceX

“You must characterize the basic physics of this,” he said. “How does this happen? How do NTO and titanium ignite, and what does that mean? So, in general, we still have work ahead of us.”

From a hardware perspective, other Crew Dragon spacecraft are already under construction and Koenigsmann sees fixes as happening “in parallel” with that process. To keep up with schedule changes, spacecraft assignments will be moved up to earlier missions.

“I feel like we can do this pretty much in parallel when we’re working with other issues. And just in general, you have a ton of stuff you need to work on to fly safely. It’s a parallel path to solving the remaining work that we have on Dragon in general,” he said.

The capsule lost in April was a historic spacecraft for SpaceX: In March, it successfully launched to the ISS and became the company’s first Crew Dragon spacecraft to do so. It was slated to take astronauts on a later mission.

NASA has contracted with SpaceX and Boeing to build spacecraft that will take American astronauts to the ISS. Both have been awarded multibillion-dollar deals to develop their spacecraft, and both are in testing phases. Crew Dragon had been targeting this month for its first launch with humans on board, but that flight has been pushed back later into the year – and possibly into next.

“We’re looking at both provider schedules pretty closely now,” said Kathy Lueders, NASA’s manager for the Commercial Crew Program. “We’re taking the time right now to understand all the work.”

Koenigsmann said it’s not impossible to launch humans by the end of the year, but it’s getting “increasingly difficult.”

The company, meanwhile, is still targeting 7:35 p.m. Sunday for the launch of its next resupply run to the ISS, which features an older robotic version of Dragon. Falcon 9 will not have a window to launch from Launch Complex 40 – it either lifts off at exactly that time or delays to another day.

Contact Emre Kelly at aekelly@floridatoday.com or 321-242-3715. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at @EmreKelly.

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SpaceX determines cause of Crew Dragon explosion during testing

SpaceX and NASA officials said Monday investigators have determined a leaking valve is the what caused the Crew Dragon capsule to explode …

SpaceX and NASA officials said Monday investigators have determined a leaking valve is the what caused the Crew Dragon capsule to explode during a ground test in April.

SpaceX which is in process of certifying its spacecraft to fly NASA astronauts as part of the commercial crew program. On April 20, the company was test-firing the Crew Dragon SuperDraco thrusters at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station when the capsule exploded sending red-tinted smoke across the Cape.

Prior to the testing mishap, the same Crew Dragon capsule successfully launched from Kennedy Space Center on a Falcon 9 rocket, docked at the space station’s new international docking adapter and splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean after a six-day stay.

The Crew Dragon capsule was being prepared for a launch abort test from the Cape when the capsule was destroyed during the ground test. During which SpaceX will launch a Falcon 9 with the spacecraft then cause a problem to trigger the capsule to be safely jettisoned away from the rocket.

The launch abort was the final test scheduled before for a launch with NASA Astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, which was slated for this summer.

The SuperDraco thrusters are what the spacecraft would use to shuttle the astronauts away from the rocket to safety in case of an emergency during launch.

After the explosion, SpaceX created an accident investigation team that included officials from NASA, the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transporation Safety Board to determine the cause.

Early on in the investigation it was determined the problem occurred approximately 100 milliseconds prior to ignition of Crew Dragon’s eight SuperDraco thrusters and during pressurization of the vehicle’s propulsion systems.

The investigation team attempted to recreate the scenario during multiple tests at its facilities in McGregor, Texas.

In a statement SpaceX explained what caused the valve to fail:

“Evidence shows that a leaking component allowed liquid oxidizer – nitrogen tetroxide – to enter high-pressure helium tubes during ground processing. A slug of this (nitrogen tetroxide) was driven through a helium check valve at high speed during rapid initialization of the launch escape system, resulting in structural failure within the check valve. The failure of the titanium component in a high-pressure NTO environment was sufficient to cause ignition of the check valve and led to an explosion.”

“The reaction between titanium and nitrogen tetroxide at high pressure was not expected,” SpaceX said in a statement, because “titanium has been used safely over many decades and on many spacecraft from all around the world.”

In a call with reporters Monday, SpaceX vice president of build and flight reliability Hans Koenigsmann said the company is replacing about four check valves with burst disks on the astronaut capsule to remedy the problem.

Check valves, typically allow liquid to flow in only one direction while burst disks seal completely until opened by high pressure, according to SpaceX.

“SpaceX also eliminated any flow path within the launch escape system for liquid propellant to enter the gaseous pressurization system,” a statement from the company said.

Koenigsmann said the static fire test and anomaly provided a wealth of data and will lead to further improvements in the safety and reliability of SpaceX’s flight vehicles.

“We learned a very valuable lesson on something going forward,” he said.

“These changes, along with thorough testing and analysis will be completed “well in advance of future flights,” according to SpaceX.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program Manager Kathy Lueders said NASA still has not determined what this means for when SpaceX can begin launching astronauts.

“What’s really critical is you always learn things when you’re testing, I know everyone would like us to be able to say ‘This is when we are launching,'” Lueders said, adding, “This will help us fly safer.”

Both Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, the astronauts who will fly on the first crewed flight of Crew Dragon, have been in the loop during the investion, Lueders said.

“They really appreciated SpaceX’s openness — SpaceX’s inclusion of NASA– on the investigation team, and the continued interchange that we’ve had over the last few months,” Lueders said.

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