SpaceX pinpoints cause of Dragon explosion during test

Please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar below. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.


Regular readers can support Behind The Black with a contribution via paypal:

Or with a subscription with regular donations from your Paypal or credit card account:


If Paypal doesn't work for you, you can support Behind The Black directly by sending your donation by check, payable to Robert Zimmerman, to
Behind The Black
c/o Robert Zimmerman
P.O.Box 1262
Cortaro, AZ 85652

SpaceX today revealed that it has pinpointed the cause of the explosion that destroyed a Dragon manned capsule during an engine test in April.

The company believes that the problem originated with the Crew Dragon’s emergency abort system, which consists of a series of small thrusters embedded within the capsule. If all goes well during a mission, these tiny thrusters are never really meant to be used. But if there is some kind of failure during a future launch, the thrusters can ignite and carry the Crew Dragon safely away from a disintegrating rocket.

SpaceX says that a leaky valve caused the propellant needed for these thrusters to cross into another system — one of really high pressure. When this contamination occurred, the high forces slammed the liquid around, causing valuable components to fail and leading to the ultimate loss of the capsule.

Koenigsman said that this contamination definitely was not anticipated, though the kind of valve that leaked has been known to have some internal leakage problem. Ultimately, he acknowledged that, to some extent, this was a design issue. “It’s something that the components should not have done,” Koenigsman said. “But at the same time, we learned a very valuable lesson on something going forward, one that makes the Crew Dragon a safer vehicle.”
““it was a huge gift for us.” ”

SpaceX will replace all of these types of valves with another component known as a burst disk, which is supposed to be much more reliable, according to Koenigsman.

The company is still hoping to fly before the end of the year, but admits that this may not be possible. Right now they have a tentative launch date in November.



  • commodude

    And there is the difference between SpaceX and NASA. NASA would have another 5 years of panels and investigations prior to moving forward. SpaceX pick sup the pieces, solves the issue, and moves forward.

    Unfortunately, most organizations succumb to this type of bureaucratic stagnation eventually, here’s hoping SpaceX remains different.

  • Dick Eagleson

    This is not, unfortunately, one of the charming Loren Grush’s better efforts. Her explanation of the nature of the problem is unclear because it is incomplete. Also, the SuperDraco thrusters of the D2 Launch Abort System are decidedly not “small,” let alone “tiny.”

  • John

    The super draco was originally intended to double for propulsive landings.

    The bust disks I’m familiar with are single use. Depending on what valves are being replaced, this might mean super draco is now only a launch abort system not a throttle-able landing system.

  • Dick Eagleson

    Throttling of the SuperDracos would be the function of a metering valve or some equivalent mechanism, not a check valve. What the substitution of burst disks for check valves means is that the SuperDracos can only be started once per mission, either to implement an abort or to perform a landing. When propulsive landing was still intended, the Super Dracos needed to be restartable because the descent profile called for them to be “burp fired” at high altitude to establish correct function before relying upon them solely for the landing. Any problem with the SuperDracos would force a parachute landing instead.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *