SpaceX replaces heat shield on next Crew Dragon mission after failed test

SpaceX replaces heat shield on next Crew Dragon mission after failed test

WASHINGTON — SpaceX will replace the heat shield on the next Crew Dragon spacecraft flying to the International Space Station after it failed inspections, but NASA says there’s no risk of a similar issue for the spacecraft currently at the station.

In a May 24 statement to reporters, NASA said a heat shield structure SpaceX built for the Crew-5 mission to the station, slated for launch in early September, failed an acceptance test. earlier this month and will not be used on this spacecraft. .

“SpaceX has a rigorous testing process to put every component and system through its paces to ensure safety and reliability,” the agency said in the statement. “The test did its job and found a manufacturing defect.”

These tests include X-raying the structure as well as applying physical loads to it to simulate the forces it would experience during reentry and splashdown, said program manager Steve Stich. NASA commercial crew, during a May 25 briefing after Boeing’s return. CST-100 during an unmanned test flight.

“What happened for Crew-5 is when we put the heat shield through the landing loads, it didn’t pass,” he said. “We could tell there was damage inside the heat shield as a result of that test, so we knew we couldn’t go ahead and fly that heat shield.”

NASA said SpaceX will use a different heat shield on this spacecraft, Endurance, which will undergo the same tests. The agency said in its statement that it still plans to launch this mission in September.

The fault does not affect the heat shield of the Crew-4 Crew Dragon spacecraft, Freedom, currently at the ISS. “It doesn’t have the same manufacturing issues that we saw for Crew-5,” Stich said. “It’s been through this test sequence where we’re going to put all the loads on it and it passed all of these load cases, so we have no concerns about the heat shield on Crew-4.”

NASA’s statement was in response to a report released on May 23 that claimed there was a hypergolic thruster leak from Crew Dragon’s thrusters that caused significant damage to the heat shield at the end of the mission. private astronaut Ax-1 from Axiom Space at the station, which crashed on April 25. This raised a potential issue with the Crew-4 spacecraft which launched less than two days later.

NASA has denied that there was a leak or heat shield problem on this mission. “Data associated with recent Dragon crew re-entries was normal – the system performed as expected without dispute,” the agency said. “There were no hypergol leaks when returning from a crewed Dragon mission or contamination with the heat shield causing excessive wear.”

NASA added that there was a “complete engineering review” of the Crew Dragon’s thermal protection system after the Ax-1 splashdown and before the Crew-4 launch. While the composite structure of the heat shield was reused for Crew-4, the material of the heat shield system itself is new, the case for all crewed missions.

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