Saturday, April 20, something bad happened to SpaceX's Crew Dragon spaceship. We still don't know exactly what happened. But in any case, we now know more than we did last month.
Eyewitness accounts at the time of the "smoke" event seen over the Florida coast. NASA and SpaceX released statements referring to an "anomaly". News stores reported an explosion. In the end, a leaked video of the event SpaceX Crew Dragon showed spaceships on its test ground suddenly erupted into a flame bullet.
In the beginning, SpaceX and NASA were reluctant to provide much information about anomaly, smoke or especially the explosion. But in the end, the leaked video must have convinced SpaceX and NASA to tear off the bandage and confirm what many already expected: Crew Dragon blew up.
It's hard to argue with a video
In a public statement last week, SpaceX vice president of mission assurance described Hans Koenigsmann how Crew Dragon successfully tested his Draco maneuver thrusters twice. It was only to prepare to fire their Super Draco thrusters (which, in the event of a failure of the spacecraft rocket booster), would be used to safely drive the spacecraft and its crew away from the explosion), when it suddenly "was an anomaly and the vehicle was destroyed. "
Now Koenigsmann's statement party leadership repeated that it was" too early to confirm "what just happened. Yet here is what we know is important for investors.
The spacecraft that blew up last month was the same ship that successfully completed an unmanned docking with the International Space Station in March. This spacecraft, which you will remember, sprayed down at sea after completing its mission ̵
But because of April anomaly, it is now likely that both the interruption test in June in flight, and in the long run the launch attempt in July, must be postponed. For one thing, SpaceX will definitely build a new spacecraft now. (Several are under construction, but it will still take time.) Some experts say that the ISS mission could go to 2020, and even Koenigsmann admits that the accident was "not good news for the schedule."
What It Means to Investors
Although SpaceX-rival Boeing (NYSE: BA) has suffered delays and setbacks in itself to get his CST-100 Starliner spacecraft ready for test flight, it is still expected to launch its first unmanned Starliner on a test drive to the ISS in August. If it goes well, a manned assignment can follow as early as November. With SpaceX now potentially seeing its first manned mission delayed by 2020, this seems to move Boeing to the lead in this race. Boeing may well win bragging rights as the company that returns US astronauts to space, aboard a US spacecraft, for the first time since the commuting program was closed in 2011.
Such a success (if it happens) would tend to validate NASA's decision to pay Boeing $ 4.2 billion to drive six shipments to the ISS board Starliner, to allocate only $ 2.6 billion to SpaceX for the same job. And if NASA paid a premium for reliability once, then Boeing's argument to continue charging higher prices (and earning bigger profit margins) than SpaceX does in the future would be strengthened.
Now, all Boeing must successfully launch their spacecraft to the ISS in August as planned – and do it again three months later, before SpaceX bounces back.