SpaceX suffered an “anomaly” in a Crew Dragon capsule during static fire tests at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Saturday.
The undisclosed problem could delay plans to launch a crewed test flight later this year.
Initial evaluations were “completed successfully,” a SpaceX spokesperson told SpaceNews. A final assessment, however, “resulted in an anomaly on the test stand.”
“Ensuring that our systems meet rigorous safety standards and detecting anomalies like this prior to flight are the main reasons why we test,” the company statement said. “Our teams are investigating and working closely with our NASA partners.”
National Aeronautics and Space Administration head Jim Bridenstine echoed that sentiment, confirming that both teams are “assessing the anomaly.”
“This is why we test,” he tweeted over the weekend. “We will learn, make the necessary adjustments and safely move forward with our Commercial Crew Program.”
The so-called “anomaly” occurred during testing of the SuperDraco thrusters—part of the Crew Dragon’s launch abort system—SpaceNews explained.
The propulsive devices use nitrogen tetroxide and hydrazine propellants: a hypergolic combination that ignites on contact, according to the space blog. Each thruster is capable of producing about 16,000 pounds-force of thrust.
Eyewitnesses near Cape Canaveral on Saturday reported seeing a dark cloud of orange smoke rising above SpaceX’s facilities.
There were no injuries.
It remains unclear which Crew Dragon vehicle was being used in the test; sources suggest it was the spacecraft that flew a successful Demo-1 mission in March, docking with the ISS for five days before splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean.
SpaceX intended to fly that same rocket this summer in an in-flight abort test, SpaceNews said. Its delay, however, would also push back the Demo-2 flight with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley—scheduled for as early as July, but now expected to take place in autumn.