Credit: SpaceX

The SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule mishap on April 20 is sure to be a hot topic at the forthcoming meeting of the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel.

Established by Congress in 1968 to provide advice and make recommendations to the NASA Administrator on safety matters, the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) is holding its second quarterly meeting for 2019 this Thursday at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Frames from purported video of Crew Dragon test shows capsule undergoing a serious “anomaly.”
Screengrab/Inside Outer Space

Detecting anomalies

SpaceX technicians were performing a series of engine tests on the test vehicle.

“The initial tests completed successfully but the final test resulted in an anomaly on the test stand,” SpaceX said in a statement.

“Ensuring that our systems meet rigorous safety standards and detecting anomalies like this prior to flight are the main reasons why we test. Our teams are investigating and working closely with our NASA partners.”

Perils inherent to space flight

In the ASAP’s last report, Dr. Patricia Sanders Chair of ASAP noted in an open letter to NASA Administrator, Jim Bridenstine:

“As both the Commercial Crew Program and Exploration Systems Development move beyond design into hardware production and test, we continue to note that NASA maintains focus on the requisite details for risk management and mission success without apparent neglect or omission of planned content. To date, but with technical challenges remaining, there has been no direct evidence that schedule pressure is driving decisions that will adversely impact safety,” Sanders explains.

“As NASA transitions from development to operational launch and flight of its astronauts—something it has not done for several years, since the end of the Shuttle era—it is essential to remain cognizant of the perils inherent to space flight,” Sanders adds.

“Given the great uncertainties of the space operational environment,” Sanders continues, “it is critical to maintain vigilance and attention to test results, engineering understanding, disciplined processes, and consideration of mitigation alternatives. We have often commented on the need for constancy of purpose for exploration, but along with that must go constancy of standards for certification, flight test, and acceptable risk.”

Credit: ASAP

Required actions

In the 2018 ASAP report, a number of recommendations were provided to NASA, including:

Required Actions for Crewed Flight Test Risk Reduction: NASA should confirm and then clearly communicate the required content and configuration for the upcoming CCP test flights-Demo-1 and Orbital Flight Test (OFT)-specifically, those items that must be successfully demonstrated prior to the first crewed flights.

Action to Ensure U.S. Access to the International Space Station Given Commercial Crew Program Schedule Risk: Due to the potential for delays in the schedule for the first Commercial Crew Program (CCP) flights with crew, senior NASA leadership should work with the Administration and the Congress to guarantee continuing access to ISS for U.S. crew members until such time that U.S. capability to deliver crew to the International Space Station (ISS) is established.

The entire Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel report for 2018 is available here:


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