CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP/CBSLA) – Just six weeks removed from its first successful test flight, Hawthorne-based SpaceX confirmed Thursday its Crew Dragon capsule – designed to eventually carry astronauts into space — was destroyed in ground testing last month.

The SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule deorbits before splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean on March 8, 2019. (NASA)

Hans Koenigsmann, a company vice president, told reporters it’s too soon to know what went wrong during the April 20 test at Cape Canaveral or whether the Crew Dragon capsule’s test flight in March contributed to the failure. Flames engulfed the capsule a half-second before the launch-abort thrusters were to fire. The explosion was captured in video leaked on social media.

The company has concluded, meanwhile, that the smaller, simpler cargo version of the Dragon capsule is safe to fly to the International Space Station.

The cargo and crew versions of the Dragon capsule are considerably different. The cargo Dragon does not have the SuperDraco thrusters that are embedded into the side of the crew Dragon. Those thrusters would be used to push a capsule off a just-launched rocket in an emergency. They weren’t used during the test flight to the space station in March.

Koenigsmann remains hopeful SpaceX can launch two NASA astronauts to the space station this year. The impact to the schedule will depend on the results of the accident investigation, he said.

The unpiloted Crew Dragon capsule had a successful eight-day mission in March. The unmanned capsule, carrying about 400 pounds of supplies and equipment, was launched into space as a historic test mission late March 1 aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida, and it docked with the International Space Station on March 3. It splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean on March 8.

Crew Dragon’s maiden flight into space is a major milestone in American space flight. The United States has not launched astronauts into space since the space shuttle program was retired in 2011. SpaceX and Boeing have both now contracted with NASA to conduct astronaut launches, with Crew Dragon the first capsule actually launched into space on a test mission.

(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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