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Dark clouds on the horizon, the crew of a commercial


Dragon test crew

Prototype SpaceX Dragon crew during earlier tests SuperDraco motor vehicle involved in the incident at Cape Canaveral on April 20 (credit: SpaceX)

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It was not clear at first what caused the dark cloud noticed that sunny Saturday afternoon on the Florida Space Coast, but it could not be good.

On that day, surfers and other travelers, as well as a photojournalist, he saw a dark, reddish cloud rising from somewhere in the vicinity of the Air Force Station at Cape Canaveral. When no trigger or other publicity activities of the test in advance what the cause was originally secret.

By the end of the day, base officials and SpaceX announced what had happened: the company tested its Dragon crew vehicle on a runway zone 1 (formerly Launch Complex 13 at Cape Canaveral), if something went wrong.

"We will learn to make the necessary adjustments, and safely move forward with our program Commercial Crew,» said Bridenstine.

"Earlier today, SpaceX conducted a series of engine test Dragon crew transport vehicle on our test bench at the landing zone 1 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The first tests completed successfully, but the last test led to anomalies on the test bench, "the representative said in a statement via e-mail. "Ensuring that our systems meet the stringent standards of safety and detection of anomalies like this to fly with the & # 39 are the main reasons why we feel. Our teams are investigating and in close cooperation with our partners in the NASA ".

More than a week later, that is, the extent to which SpaceX revealed about the incident or anomaly or failure. The company did not provide additional updates on the event, or even the status of the investigation. It has become a matter of some disappointment to some who believed that, as the program is funded by NASA, the company should be more open.

«NASA should not allow such secrecy, if the program does not include the military secrets that this person is not" maintained orlando Sentinel in an editorial on Wednesday. The agency, he argued, should require SpaceX and other commercial organizations crew, Boeing, «to be more transparent and advancing."

NASA Is not appear, SpaceX pressure to provide more information. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstin, in a statement hours after the incident, said that NASA and SpaceX have worked to assess the incident. "We will learn to make the necessary adjustments, and safely move forward with our program Commercial Crew,» he said.

His statement did confirm one key aspect of the incident: it took place during the test of the spacecraft engines SuperDraco, which are intended to propel the spacecraft from its Falcone 9 launch vehicle in the event of an emergency. (These engines were also when it is intended to provide propulsion landing spacecraft on the ground that since SpaceX postponed indefinitely in favor splashdowns.) These motors use a combination of self-ignite propellant osmium hydrazines and nitrogen; reddish clouds color with a & # 39 were indicative of nitrogen tetroxide.

The incident also made during the meeting on the last Thursday of the Consultative Group Aerospace Safety (ASAP), an independent NASA safety committee, but they offered little in the way of new details about the incident. The test took place after the test small motors Draco spacecraft were successfully completed as soon as possible, said the chairman Patricia Sanders. "The dismissal of the eight SuperDracos as a result of anomalies," she said, but did not specify the details of the test, or as a result of the anomaly.

SpaceX is investigating with the anomaly, she said, with the participation of NASA, as they have worked to ensure that the test site and collect data. She and other members of the group called for patience, giving researchers time to investigate what happened. "We know that there is great interest in connection with the recent failure of SpaceX. We are patient, and allow teams to investigate, "said Sandra Magnus, ASAP member and former astronaut.

Although the details of the accident remain poor, with consequences that & # 39 are a little clearer. Dragon Capsule crew involved in the incident was the same as that one was flying uninhabited Demo-1 test flight in March. The extent of the harm that he suffered were not reported, but it was probably severely damaged, if not destroyed.

The capsule was flying again as soon as June, the in-flight abort the test when he would have shot his SuperDraco thruster deviate from the Falcon 9 after the start. This is a long-awaited milestone test was not his permanent contract for the commercial crew development, but instead previously funded Space Act Agreement.

If the capsule actually requires significant repairs or damaged, it would divert that in-flight abort test, possibly for a long period of time. This may, in turn, delay the demo-2 manned flight to the space station, with two NASA astronauts.

"Despite the recent incident, there is a large on & # 39; the amount of work yet to be completed between the demo and 1 manned flight," said Magnus.

As soon as possible, at its meeting last week, he declined to assumptions about the impact of the anomaly will have on the charts. "The investigation will take some time before the complete analysis of the causes, and will determine the impact on the DEMO-2 and test interruption in flight," said Sanders.

While the demo-2 was officially scheduled for no earlier than July, the flight is more likely to happen later this year, before SuperDraco anomalies. Magnus said that SpaceX took "spiral" approach to development, gradually adding features. This means that the company still had a job, despite a successful trial 1 flight in March, before the start of trial 2 (see the "beginning of the end of the commercial crew development" Space Review, March 11, 2019)

"Before the launch of the demo-1, because this approach is the development of a spiral, conducted by NASA and SpaceX have defined configuration changes and consequent qualification of the work that would be required to be completed by the demo-2 has become possible," she said, repeating comments made by officials NASA during the mission Demo 1.

"Despite the recent incident, there is a large on & # 39; the amount of work yet to be completed between the demo and 1 manned flight," she said, adding that it was too early to speculate as SuperDraco anomaly would affect it.

SpaceX is not the only company that is suffering problems with his system startup interrupt. Last summer, Boeing faced a problem with the interrupt system for its CST-100 Starliner car. Several values ​​of the engine could not be fully closed if said the company said at the time.

It sounded like a pretty minor issue, at least in comparison with the fact that SpaceX experienced, but it still caused a significant delay for this problem. In April 3, NASA statement said that the company is only now "is preparing to resume its test campaign hot fire Service Module on the White Sands Test Facility NASA in New Mexico," now that the valve problem was corrected. "The new equipment, including valves of the engine start to stop operations, have been redesigned and built and installed on the engine test interruption," the agency said.

The announcement came as NASA announced the new dates for the two commercial test flight crew Boeing: unmanned test is scheduled to start in August, and then on the manned test is not until November. Boeing was aiming for May for unpopulated test, but said that issues other band Atlas 5, carrying a military communications satellite, scheduled for the end of June, meaning that they had virtually no chance to start in May before having to turn the pillow for this mission in June.

This is a short gap between the unpopulated and flight test crew on Boeing-only three months, it is possible, Magnus suggested. «Boeing has taken a more traditional route, putting more efforts to integrated testing to establish a more mature project from the beginning," she said, compared with SpaceX in a spiral approach. She added, however, that the company continues to face "presentation and analysis of data necessary for the final process of certification and control."

These events, in combination, make it clear that it is very unlikely that any company will be certified to carry NASA astronauts at the end of this year. This was a problem for NASA as the agency access to the places of the Union had to run out before the beginning of 2020.

However, NASA has made a number of steps in recent months to deal with the potential loss of access. This included announcing in February its intention to purchase two seats alliance with the Russian Space Agency, which would provide access to the station in the fall of 2020.

Extension of stay of two astronauts to the ISS, NASA says, "also allows NASA's, to get the most of the time devoted to other research aboard the station, and the US commercial launch providers N crew prepare for the surgery and from the US soil and the space station."

In addition, NASA on the & # 39; has identified on 17 April that the two ISS astronaut will remain on station for longer than the standard six months the crew rotation. Christine Koch, who arrived at the station in March, will now remain for next February in a 328-day leave, which will set a record for the longest space flight of the woman. Andrew Morgan, is set to launch to the station in July, will remain at the station until the next spring, the 255-day stay,

NASA says that a long stay will allow scientists to gather more data on the effects of long-duration space flights, as the 340-day stay of Scott Kelly. But, the agency added in a statement, the extension "also allows NASA's, to get the most of the time devoted to other research aboard the station, and the US commercial launch providers N crew prepare for the surgery and from the US soil and the space station."

The third measure to ensure access includes the exercise of an option that has been studied for a year to turn Starliner manned test flight of Boeing in an extended stay on the station, NASA announced in early April, when she announced the new schedule of test flights. NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Mike Fink, along with former astronaut and current employee of Boeing Chris Ferguson will spend potentially months on the station in accordance with the new plan; NASA says the precise duration of this mission will be determined later.

ASAP praised NASA for the measures which they argued using a pressure schedule reduced by commercial suppliers crew. "NASA is properly set up an action plan to ensure continued US access to the ISS manned until the end of 2020, providing a time margin as they move in the direction of flight crew," said Magnus.

Thus, while the speed to get the crew to fly commercial vehicles faded somewhat, the urgency to find out what happened to the crew of Dragon car more than a week ago is preserved. But just as the dark cloud of the anomaly put out to sea and dissipated, so too should the uncertainty clouding what happened that day on the spaceship and its implications for the common commercial crew program. Eventually.

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