The most recent rocket launch accident happened before liftoff: NASA engineers are investigating whether a system failure in the rocket’s parachute helped cause its re-entry to the Earth’s atmosphere and explosion.
SpaceX, the California-based company that launches things from Florida, first put an internet-like launch guide called “Project Draco” on its Falcon 9 rockets about four years ago. Using artificial intelligence, it triangulates GPS information — however inaccurate it may be — and uses the information to generate a pitch-black landing plan for the rocket.
The plan is designed so that anyone sitting in the room around the rocket and its parachutes can see exactly where the rocket’s remaining propellant will land. In all, SpaceX said, the Dragon space capsule can return to Earth using 60 to 90 percent of its primary propellant, while having only a 1 percent chance of crashing into the sea.
The Dragon capsule blasted off from Cape Canaveral Sunday, but 20 minutes later, it began rolling back to the launch pad, according to NBC News. The contractor, Charleston-based Launch Assist Telescope Experiment, a laboratory staffed by engineers from the South Carolina Aviation Authority and the U.S. Naval Sea Systems Command, found that the rocket had suffered a hard landing. Launch ALT is operating the drone system designed to bring the capsule safely back to the Earth’s surface.
The launch pad crew found a large hole in the pad after the rocket deployed its stage, and officials at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center were investigating whether the hole had come from the rockets parachutes, according to The Washington Post.
“The company has a team at Kennedy Space Center working with NASA to understand the cause of the anomaly,” SpaceX officials said in a statement.
Retrieving vehicles that have accidentally re-entered the atmosphere (or merely re-entered the planet’s atmosphere) has long been a problem for NASA, but SpaceX’s Project Draco has been primarily designated to handle small rockets — intended for smaller applications that may not be as highly sophisticated as larger spacecraft.
Read the full story at NBC News.
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