SpaceX preps for overnight launch from Cape Canaveral

A Crew Dragon capsule at the Kennedy Space Center

A Crew Dragon capsule at the Kennedy Space Center

The vice president of mission assurance for SpaceX, Hans Koenigsmann, confirmed during a press briefing today that the Crew Dragon capsule was destroyed in an explosion during a test last month, several weeks before the capsule was scheduled to carry NASA astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS).

The International Space Station is seen from the Space Shuttle Discovery during separation.

The landing platform was stationed 14 miles (22 kilometers) offshore.

If the Dragon capsule isn't flying by Saturday, SpaceX will have to wait a week before its next try because of other Air Force operations. The test of the Crew Dragon capsule - which was unmanned at the time - in April resulted in failure, though SpaceX has been tight-lipped on what, exactly, went wrong. This is the first time SpaceX has stood down a launch attempt due to a problem related to recovering a first-stage booster.

This cargo Dragon, flying a mission designed CRS-17, previously flew to the station on the CRS-12 mission in August 2017.

"It's too early to confirm any cause or probable root", Koenigsmann said.

On 20 April, SpaceX was performing tests on its new reusable astronaut taxi, Crew Dragon, in Cape Canaveral, Floridaahead of its launch which is scheduled to take place later in the year. The mission is to have three tons of cargo delivered to the astronauts on the space station, including supplies and a host of new experiments.

Although SpaceX has completed multiple successful missions to the International Space Station, they have been with Cargo Dragon craft.

"That is why we test", he said. "Teams will also address the ground side helium leak before tomorrow's backup launch opportunity at 2:48 a.m. EDT, 6:48 UTC.", said SpaceX in a short statement on Twitter.

Before the accident, SpaceX had been shooting for a summertime crew launch. "I don't want to completely preclude the current schedule, (but) certainly not great news for the schedule overall". Because the arm is used to capture and berth the cargo Dragon spacecraft, NASA opted to delay the launch until flight controllers could use the arm to install a spare unit.

"Just prior to when we wanted to fire the SuperDraco, there was an anomaly, and the vehicle was destroyed", Koenigsmann said.

The company still needs to conduct a launch-abort test, before astronauts strap in.

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