On Saturday, SpaceX tested the emergency escape rocket system for its new human-capable Crew Dragon spacecraft. A US Air Force spokesperson told local press the incident, at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, had been contained and no-one had been injured. The explosion occurred after a static-fire test of the emergency abort system on the new Crew Dragon space capsule, which is intended for use by NASA’s Commercial Crew program to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station.
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A statement from SpaceX said: “Earlier today, SpaceX conducted a series of engine tests on a Crew Dragon test vehicle on our test stand at Landing Zone 1 in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
“The initial tests completed successfully but the final test resulted in an anomaly on the test stand.”
On Sunday, an unverified video on Twitter claimed to show the space capsule exploding during the test.
This minor setback comes after a series of successes of Elon Musk’s company, with the unmanned Crew Dragon successfully entering orbit for the first time last month.
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This latest incident, however, could delay plans to launch a manned mission to the International Space Station later this year.
Not since the end of the Space Shuttle programme in 2011 has the US been able to send its own astronauts into orbit.
It has had to rely instead on Russia and its Soyuz spacecraft.
Images of smoke coming from the space capsule have been circulating on social media.
SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk in 2002, said it had opened an investigation and was committed to ensuring its systems met “rigorous safety standards”.
SpaceX had appeared to be cruising to victory over Boeing in the race to be the first to launch astronauts to orbit from US soil since NASA’s final shuttle mission in 2011.
But this explosion during the static test firing of the Crew Dragon capsule may change things.
Elon Musk has stayed silent on the incident, except cryptically tweeting the word, “Respawn++”.