The setback comes as the company is preparing to fly NASA astronauts for the first time.
A SpaceX capsule designed to ferry NASA astronauts to the International Space Station suffered a failure during an engine test Saturday afternoon that sent a billowing plume of smoke into the air over Cape Canaveral, Fla.
No one was injured, and it was not clear what caused the accident or how serious it was. In a statement, the company said the failure occurred as it was conducting “a series of engine tests.” The initial tests were “completed successfully, but the final test resulted in an anomaly on the test stand.”
The failure comes at a critical time for the California-based company founded by Elon Musk. It hopes to fly astronauts to the space station as soon as this year as part of NASA’s “commercial crew program.” And it comes ahead of tests of the capsule’s escape system, which is designed to jettison the spacecraft away from its rocket in the event of an emergency. Now both of those could be delayed as the company investigates what went wrong.
The engines that failed Saturday are part of that abort system. Reports from local media outlets showed a large reddish cloud of smoke that, according to Florida Today, “could be seen for miles.”
“Ensuring that our systems meet rigorous safety standards and detecting anomalies like this prior to flight are the main reasons why we test,” SpaceX said in its statement. “Our teams are investigating and working closely with our NASA partners.”
In a statement on Twitter, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said, “This is why we test. We will learn, make the necessary adjustments and safely move forward with our commercial crew program.”
Earlier this year, SpaceX conducted a successful uncrewed test flight of its spacecraft, known as Crew Dragon, which flew to the space station, docked and then returned home.