A SpaceX Crew Dragon test capsule suffered an anomaly at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Saturday afternoon, sending plumes of smoke into the sky over the Space Coast.
"In a brief two-paragraph statement, SpaceX said company engineers were carrying out a series of engine tests "on a Crew Dragon test vehicle" on a firing stand at Landing Zone 1 at the Air Force station".
Forty-fifth Space Wing Spokesman Jim Williams tells Florida Today that the anomaly happened Saturday at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station while the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule was undergoing a "static test fire".
SpaceX's Crew Dragon successfully flew without a crew to the International Space Station in March.
But the "Demo 1" Crew Dragon capsule, launched March 2 on an unpiloted test flight, is at the Cape being prepared for an in-flight abort test early this summer, a critical milestone needed to clear the way for the first piloted launch, using a different capsule, in the late July timeframe.
"Ensuring that our systems meet rigorous safety standards and detecting anomalies like this prior to flight are the main reasons why we test", the SpaceX spokesperson said. Reports from local media outlets showed a large reddish cloud of smoke that, according to Florida Today, "could be seen for miles". The company launched its first Crew Dragon test flight for NASA last month, and was expected to fly that same vehicle during an upcoming in-flight abort test.
SpaceX said its teams are investigating and are working closely with U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) partners. The six-day mission ended with a successful splashdown of Crew Dragon in the Atlantic Ocean and its retrieval by a SpaceX recovery ship. As part of the routine testing and safety requirements, the Crew Dragon first has to complete an "in-flight abort test", where the crew capsule is jettisoned from the rocket by a set of boosters. Again, what impact Saturday's mishap might have on those plans is not yet known.