Valve Leak Caused SpaceX's Dragon Crew Capsule Explosion

SpaceX determines the cause of the Dragon crew capsule explosion.
Rebecca Warren
SpaceX Dragon (June 2019) NASA

With the next SpaceX launch for NASA scheduled for this Sunday, the cause of April’s Dragon crew capsule explosion has been confirmed. A VP from the beleaguered space technology company, Hans Koenigsmann, revealed that the explosion was the result of a leaky check valve.

The valve, made of titanium, allowed a slug of liquid oxidizer to seep into the high-pressure abort system used in the crew capsule. The error occurred 100 milliseconds before the abort-system thrusters were set to fire. 


Unexpected culprit

Koenigsmann advised that the faulty check valves will no longer be used, and instead a more reliable disk system will be implemented.

Koenigsmann added that the explosion’s cause was not what the company had anticipated, saying "The valve failure was something that we didn’t expect and a great lesson for us. My emphasis is really on making sure this is safe," according to AP. He said that the faulty values will be replaced while other work takes place on the capsule.

Koenigsmann said that SpaceX was still hopeful that they would be able to complete their first manned space flight by year’s end, but he would not commit to that timeframe, citing the unpredictable nature of the design and testing process.

Shuttles for hire

Since the space shuttle program was stopped in 2011, NASA has been relying on SpaceX to transport space station supplies and buying seats on Russian Soyuz shuttles to send American astronauts into space.

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Valve Leak Caused SpaceX's Dragon Crew Capsule Explosion
(From left to right) NASA Astronauts Victor Glover and Mike Hopkins in front of Dragon. Source: NASA

Boeing is the other company with plans to add space travel to their roster of services with the Starliner capsule currently under development. Boeing was also hoping to launch a test flight with astronauts aboard sometime in 2019 but has not publicly confirmed a launch date. 

The next Space X launch—its 18th mission for NASA—is currently scheduled for Sunday, July 21 at 7:35 p.m. EDT. Pre-launch activities and the launch itself will be streamed on NASA Television and the agency’s website.

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