On Saturday, April 20th, something serious happened to SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft. We still do not know exactly What happened? But at least we know more than last month.
Eyewitness accounts at the time of the event referred to the "smoke" seen on the Florida coast. NASA and SpaceX have issued statements referring to an "anomaly". The media reported an explosion. Eventually, a video revealing the incident showed the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft on its test bench turning into a fireball.
Initially, SpaceX and NASA refused to give much information about the anomaly, the smoke or especially the explosion. But finally, this video revealed must have persuaded SpaceX and NASA to tear the bandage and confirm what many had already been waiting for: Crew Dragon exploded.
Difficult to discuss with a video
In a public statement last week, Hans Koenigsmann, vice president of SpaceX's insurance mission, explained how, while he was on a test bench in Florida, Crew Dragon had managed to test twice his Draco thrusters. He was preparing to fire his Super Draco thrusters (which, in the event of an incident with the spacecraft's rocket booster, would be used to propel the spacecraft and its crew safely away from the explosion), when suddenly, was an anomaly and the vehicle was destroyed.
Even Koenigsmann's statement repeats in his statement that it is "too early to confirm" what exactly happened. Yet here's what we know is important for investors.
The spacecraft that exploded last month is the same ship that successfully completed its unmanned docking at the International Space Station in March. You will remember that this spaceship landed at sea after completing its mission. It is therefore possible that the April accident has something to do with the wear (and seawater) of the vessel and not with a defect in the initial design of the aircraft. Spacecraft.
SpaceX planned to reuse this particular spacecraft to perform an "in-flight drop test" in June, launching Crew Dragon on top of a rocket, then lighting up its Super Draco propellers to demonstrate its ability to propel the flight quickly. capsule away from an explosion (hypothetical) rocket. The success of this test would have allowed the company to launch astronauts to ISS in July as part of a mission called Demo-2.
But, because of the April anomaly, it is now likely that the June flight drop test and, by extension, the launch attempt in July, will have to be postponed. On the one hand, SpaceX will certainly have to build a new spaceship now. (Many are under construction, but it will still take time.) Some experts say that the mission of the ISS could slide to 2020, and even Koenigsmann admits that the accident was "not a good one new for the calendar ".
What this means for investors
Although SpaceX rivals Boeing (NYSE: BA) After suffering delays and setbacks in the preparation of its CST-100 Starliner spacecraft for test flights, it is still planned to launch its first unmanned Starliner for a trial on ISS in August. If it goes well, a human mission could follow as early as November. While SpaceX is currently seeing its first human mission delayed by 2020, this seems to give Boeing the first place in this race. Boeing could very well boast of its status as a company that brings American astronauts back into space, aboard an American spacecraft, for the first time since the shuttle program closed in 2011.
Such success (if that happens) would tend to validate NASA's decision to pay Boeing $ 4.2 billion to carry out six ISS-based transport missions aboard Starliner, instead of allocating $ 2.6 billion to SpaceX for the same job. And if NASA once paid the premium for reliability, Boeing's argument of continuing to charge higher prices (and generating higher profit margins) than SpaceX would be strengthened in the future .
All Boeing needs to do now is launch his spacecraft to ISS in August, as planned – and do it again three months later, before SpaceX bounces.