A memo obtained by the Orlando Sentinel seems to confirm that a video showing an explosion during a test of SpaceX's astronaut capsule is authentic - which, as the newspaper points out, neither the Elon Musk-led space venture nor NASA has publicly admitted so far. The test of the Crew Dragon capsule - which was unmanned at the time - in April resulted in failure, though SpaceX has been tight-lipped on what, exactly, went wrong.
Because the April 20 accident occurred so close to SpaceX's landing site at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, the booster for the cargo launch can not return there following liftoff.
Against that backdrop, NASA and SpaceX are pressing ahead with plans to launch a Falcon 9 rocket early Friday on a flight to deliver almost 5,500 pounds of equipment and supplies to the space station.
"Finishing the investigation and resolving this anomaly is actually our prime focus, certainly for me, right now", he said.
Those CRS-2 Dragon missions will use "propulsive" landings, where the capsule lands on a landing pad using its SuperDraco thrusters rather than splashing down in the ocean.
For almost two weeks up until this point, both NASA and SpaceX have remained tight-lipped about the failed test, even as footage circulating the internet claimed to show the moment the Crew Dragon capsule exploded. The design of a COPV used on the Falcon 9's second stage was blamed for an explosion during preparations for a static-fire test of the rocket in September 2016, leading to a redesign of that pressure vessel.
"At the test stand, we powered up Dragon, it powered up as expected, we completed tests with the Draco (maneuvering) thrusters, the smaller thrusters that are also on the cargo Dragon", Koenigsmann said.
He added that the company doesn't believe there is an issue with the SuperDraco thrusters themselves, as those have gone through about 600 similar tests in the past successfully.
Otherwise, Koenigsmann revealed little more about the disaster, saying teams "are very carefully reviewing the telemetry data, and recovered hardware".
"I don't want to completely preclude the current schedule", he said.
SpaceX was supposed to perform an in-flight abort test next with the vehicle that was destroyed, followed by a test with crew to the ISS as early as July with an updated version of Crew Dragon. Kenny Todd, NASA's space station operations and integration manager, said the faulty unit was swapped out by controllers using the station's robotic arm, clearing the way for the launch to proceed.
"We did talk to Bob and Doug, of course", Koenigsmann said, referring to Behnken and Hurley. "At the end of the day, we didn't see any change in our overall measurable risk in going into the mission". If the launch does get delayed, a backup attempt should happen Saturday (May 4) at 2:48 a.m. EDT (0648 GMT). But the accident has affected where SpaceX plans to land its first-stage Falcon 9 booster.