A test version of SpaceX's new astronaut taxi, dubbed the Crew Dragon, suffered some kind of an anomaly during an engine test Saturday (April 20) at the company's facilities at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The initial tests were "completed successfully, but the final test resulted in an anomaly on the test stand".
It's now unclear how the anomaly will affect future flights of the Crew Dragon, but it's reasonable to suggest such an incident will delay the launch of a crewed SpaceX flight by months.
Images from Cape Canaveral show a column of smoke visible from local beaches. Up until the weekend, SpaceX was considered by many to be ahead of Boeing with a higher chance of flying crew this year but this latest incident will now throw the Commercial Crew schedule into doubt.
The vehicle, carrying a human-sized dummy nicknamed "Ripley" and a plush globe-shaped toy that quickly sold out back on Earth, successfully docked with the International Space Station, and safely splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean after its six-day mission, marking a significant milestone in the development of new American human-rated spacecraft.
To prepare for the abort test, it is now understood that previously undisclosed static fires of the Crew Dragon's thrusters were set to occur Saturday morning at Cape Canaveral.
But SpaceX and NASA are investigating the incident.
NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said the agency will work with SpaceX to ensure the safety of the commercial crew program going forward. First, the vehicle's Draco thrusters - used primarily for station keeping on orbit - were to be fired up on the test stand on two separate occasions.
In a statement, the company said the failure occurred as it was conducting "a series of engine tests".
During testing Saturday, the SpaceX Crew Dragon, created to ferry humans between Earth and the International Space Station (ISS), suffered "an anomaly". The test firing was a preliminary event leading to a return to manned launches from the United States, which hasn't happened since the last space shuttle lifted off in 2011. The second crewed flight should take place before the end of the year.
And it comes ahead of tests of the capsule's escape system, which is created to jettison the spacecraft away from its rocket in the event of an emergency.