SpaceX’s Rocket For NASA Astronauts Crashes Into Bridge

SpaceX Crew Dragon splashdown
The SpaceX Crew Dragon with its four main parachutes deployed prior to splashdown upon its return in November last year. One of tehe four parachutes took longer to deploy, with spacecraft speed remaining nominal during this time. Image: NASA

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A SpaceX rocket that was on its way to the company's facilities in Hawthorne California met an accident when its trailer truck tried to pass under a bridge with low ground clearance. The company's Falcon 9 rocket is used by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for the agency's crew and cargo missions to the International Space Station (ISS), and the rocket in question was intended to fly NASA astronauts to the orbiting space laboratory as part of the agency's Crew-5 mission. NASA confirmed the accident in a blog post but refrained from providing any details, which then made their way on the social media platform Twitter.

SpaceX's Falcon 9 Rocket Crashes Into Bridge Due To Purported Driver Error

SpaceX's operational roadmap sees the company build its engines and its rockets in its Hawthorne facilities and then send them over the McGregor, Texas for testing on stands. Once the testing is finished, the rockets are shipped back to their origin or other areas depending on their use.

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This time around, the Falcon 9 rocket was on its way from McGregor to Hawthorne when it met with an unfortunate accident. According to a NASASpaceflight journalist on Twitter, the rocket struck a bridge on the highway in Texas during its transit. SpaceX's rockets are limited by their width due to transportation constraints, and a major reason that the company is testing the newer Starship in Texas is the fact that it can easily ship the equipment from its manufacturing and testing facilities to the launch pad.

The Falcon 9 is limited due to these transportation constraints, with SpaceX able to make it only 12 feet wide in order to meet highway guidelines. However, based on today's information, it appears that a bridge with low ground clearance resulted in some parts of the rocket being damaged.

The SpaceX Crew Dragon and Falcon 9 rolling out to the launch pad in August 2021. The rocket and its spacecraft are currently vertical at the Launch Complex 39A in NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Image: SpaceX

In a subsequent blog post, NASA confirmed that the rocket that crashed with the bridge was indeed intended for its Crew 5 mission. The previous NASA mission, Crew 4, took to the skies in April this year, making it the first astronaut mission for 2022. Should the Crew Dragon vehicle that flew the astronauts complete its full duration at the ISS, then its likely return will be in October.

Crew 5 will succeed Crew 4 and in the blog post, NASA shared that the damage was limited to the segment of the rocket between its booster and the spacecraft. It also outlined that SpaceX and NASA have inspected the vehicle to ensure that other areas remain unaffected.

According to NASA:

SpaceX is removing and replacing the rocket’s interstage and some onboard instrumentation after the hardware was damaged during transport from SpaceX’s production factory in Hawthorne, California, to the company’s McGregor test facility in Texas for stage testing. SpaceX teams completed – and NASA teams reviewed – load, shock, and structural analyses, coupled with detailed and X-ray inspections, to verify the damage was isolated to the interstage and ensure the integrity of the rest of the booster.

After all replacement hardware is installed, the booster will undergo stage testing and be further assessed prior to acceptance and certification for flight.

The Falcon 9 and the Crew Dragon will fly to the ISS with the Crew 5 crew in late September at the earliest and on board will be a Russian cosmonaut for the first time since the Dragon took astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley to the station in 2020.

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