SpaceX's dreams of crewed spaceflight appear to have faced a setback. The company and the US Air Force's 45th Space Wing have confirmed to Florida Today that a Crew Dragon capsule suffered an "anomaly" during a static test fire at Cape Canaveral. Most tests went according to plan, SpaceX said, but a "final test" led to problems on the testing stand. Observers could see smoke from miles away, suggesting that the capsule or something attached to it had caught fire.
The company had been gearing up for a mission abort test that would have fired all eight of Crew Dragon's SuperDraco engines in mid-launch, showing that the capsule could get away from its host rocket in an emergency. That test was supposed to take place in June, but it's not certain this will happen on schedule in light of the incident. A crewed launch was supposed to take place as soon as July, but it seems likely the timeline will change for that as well.
NASA isn't deterred by the mishap. Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement that anomalies like this are "why we test," and that the space agency would "learn, make the necessary adjustments" and push forward with its Commercial Crew Program. Still, this clearly isn't what NASA wanted to hear months before it was poised to make history -- it's another reminder that the road to private human spaceflight has been perilous.
NASA has been notified about the results of the @SpaceX Static Fire Test and the anomaly that occurred during the final test. We will work closely to ensure we safely move forward with our Commercial Crew Program. pic.twitter.com/yE2J5yGzA7— Jim Bridenstine (@JimBridenstine) April 21, 2019